After her 30-ball 51 against Supernovas in the Women’s T20 Challenge, Shafali Verma came over to the broadcasters for a post-match chat with a big smile on her face. Her joy was understandable: she was starting to find her feet again after a lean run with the bat.
Verma’s weaknesses in negotiating probing spells and dealing with the short ball had been exposed during the World Cup and the weeks leading up to it. It diminished her confidence to such an extent that she was dropped mid-tournament. Verma still attended press conferences, candidly discussing her shortcomings. Her tournament ended with a half-century against South Africa, and watching from the best seat in the venue was Laura Wolvaardt.
A few months later, Verma and Wolvaardt came together to fashion Velocity’s opening win in a solid performance that saw the two batters record the highest run-chase in the Women’s T20 Challenge .
Verma and Wolvaardt may have ended with the same scores - 51 - but they went about their innings quite differently. While Wolvaardt’s stroke-making seemed to have been taken out of a textbook - it has a certain sophistication and poise which often masks the power she packs behind some of her hits - Verma, characteristically, bludgeoned the ball. Verma isn’t too worried about looking graceful as long as the ball gets past the boundary ropes.
This tournament almost looks like her comfort zone. It’s where the world truly woke up to her Tendulkar-esque charms back in Jaipur in 2019 and it continued on Tuesday when she calmly went about her innings, attacking bowlers from Sophie Ecclestone to Pooja Vastrakar.
In the three years that have passed, the 18-year-old Verma had several reasons to feel a little out of her depth but has always soldiered on. Getting more comfortable before broadcast mics is one thing, but there’s also a certain wisdom in handling hurdles. That was evident in this half-century in Pune. Fans got just one aerial shot, but the one-legged flicks to the square boundary and her ability to open the face of the bat and pace down the track to find runs pointed to her maturity.
“I didn’t target anyone. I worked a lot on my shots. I have two to three more shots that I want to use in the next match. I just took it one ball at a time,” she said after the game.
When probed on what those shots were, there was a sparkle in her eyes as she said “You’ll see in the next game.” This almost echoes what she said after one of the fixtures against England last year. She was patiently experimenting with her shots, and working on her timing and placement.
Setting high standards
Verma’s strategy contrasts with the noise that one can assume fills Wolvaardt’s head. She is a self-confessed harsh critic of her batting and always looks at her dismissals with a cruel honesty.
During the ODI World Cup, fans and pundits waited for the poise and finesse of her signature cover drives, while the dugout would have been there with all fingers and toes crossed, hoping she could stick on long enough to give the side a cushion. Her run of scores in the World Cup were 41, 75, 77, 67, 90,3, 80, and 0, the duck at the very end in the semifinal a painful one that highlighted how dependent the Proteas were on her.
“I was disappointed when I got out, I get angry when I put in the work and don't take it all the way. It was dumb how I got out too,” the medical student said after that match-winning knock of 75 against Pakistan. Sights of Wolvaardt visibly annoyed with her shots or dismissals were cameraperson favourites during the World Cup.
Naturally, when you put these two together in the same team and through the same batting drills, the result is growth.
“We have spoken a bit about our batting over the past few days,” Wolvaardt said after their win over Supernovas.
“[Verma] is one of the most chilled batters I’ve ever played with. It’s really cool to see how she goes about her game. She is very relaxed, backs her skills, and knows what her options are. I think I need to do a bit more of that sometimes. I tend to overthink my game a bit too much at times,” she added with a sheepish smile.
Wolvaardt took confidence from a set batter being on strike as she had her role cut out for her - keep Verma on strike. Verma’s composure - glee at getting lucky with referrals, forgiveness for the odd bad shot - can do wonders for Wolvaardt. That said, the explosive Indian batter tends to need the security net, too, of a steady bat with blinkers on at the other end.
With another game to go in the league stage and a potential final, the Wolvaardt-Verma pairing may just be the one that headlines this edition of the WT20C.
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