Women's T20 World Cup: Shafali Verma - the fearless six-hitter

Shafali Verma's splendid batting has seen her climb 19 places to be the No.1 ranked batter in T20Is. The 16-year-old has dethroned Suzie Bates from the top spot.

Teen prodigy: Shafali Verma with her first coach, Ashwani Kumar, left, and Neeraj Dahiya of SRNCC. Also seen is Shafali’s younger sister Nancy.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The bat-swing is the prominent feature of Shafali Verma’s presence at the crease. Off the field, it is her attitude towards cricket. When she combines them it becomes a lethal weapon. The bowlers suffer as this little dynamite wades into the attack, scattering the ball with a robust touch, peppering the stands with sixes.

In Rohtak, the fans come to watch her practise with the boys, leaving them stunned with her cricketing prowess. They call her the 'Viru' (Sehwag) of women’s cricket.

Shafali’s coach, Ashwani Kumar, is a man of few words. He concentrates on giving his pupils the best of facilities at the Shri Ram Narain Cricket Coaching Centre with support from Neeraj Dahiya of the centre. “I remember Shafali as a puny kid coming with her father (Sanjeev) to learn cricket. There are no dedicated cricket academies for girls in Haryana and I agreed to take her in because she was so persistent,” recalled Ashwani, a former first-class cricketer.

READ| Veda Krishnamurthy: Destiny in India’s favour at World T20

Shafali batted for 10 days and made a huge impression with her timing and power. “I pushed her into the camps for 14-16 age group and she created space for herself. Later, at an off-season camp, she joined boys in the 15-16 age group and I realised that this kid, not even 12, was something special. She was hitting the ball harder than some of the boys,” said Ashwani.

In the 2018-19 season, Shafali participated in almost all the age-group tournaments and scored consistently. A visit to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) last June propelled Shafali into the higher reckoning. Former India wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra saw her batting and lost no time in informing Ashwani that she was an “exceptional” hitter of the ball.

READ | Women’s T20 World Cup: Australia enters sixth successive final, to meet India

“Her hitting ability was different. I could sense she has a future. Her style may look raw, fearless, but she is made for T20. It is good that she doesn’t know the reputation of the opponents. Any ball in her range will be smashed,” said Ratra, who also played for Haryana.

Ashwani next put Shafali in the practice session with the Haryana Ranji team. “She was quick to adapt,” he remembered. “I also kept her engaged as a wicketkeeper but it was her batting against the male bowlers that took the breath away. She is flamboyant in her way. Look at her cover-drive. It is from the book.”

Roped in as brand ambassador by Pepsi, the 16-year-old Shafali holds the key to India’s success in the ICC T20 World Cup final against Australia on Sunday. “All I have told her is that she also needs to take ones and twos,” said Ashwani. The team, however, loves Shafali as the dashing opener who compulsively looks to belt the ball.