Norm-breaker Shafali eager to make chance count

Norm-breaker Shafali eager to make chance count

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Shafali Verma

With a boyish haircut and distinct Haryanavi accent, Shafali Verma can easily pass off a wrestler or boxer. She, instead, stands an exception in Rohtak, famous for brilliant sportspersons in combat sport. Going against the popular conventions, the 15-year-old chose the ‘gentler’ option in cricket and excelled in it.

With her maiden selection in the senior women’s team, Shafali has thrown open a fresh option for Haryana girls, who have so far drawn inspiration from the trailblazing heroics of Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh and the Phogat sisters. The teenager, flooded with congratulatory calls, is now eager to make the opportunity count.

Coached by her father Sanjeev during her formative years, Shafali later moved to Sh. Ram Narain Cricket Club in Rohtak. “What bigger happiness can I get than being selected for the national team. It was my father’s dream. Cricket is really big in my family. My father and elder brother pursued it but due to lack of knowledge could not make it big,” Shafali told DH.

Her beginning was fraught with challenges. “People told my father one can’t enter the national team without contacts. A girl playing cricket was also not seen as conventional (in Haryana). They said he was wasting money. But my father insisted on the value of hard work. He was the happiest when I received the call to join the national team,” said Shafali.

Robustness has been an integral part of the growing up process for Shafali. “I loved to play aggressive and have been encouraged to retain my style. In fact, at my coaching centre, I trained with boys.”

The turning point, Shafali said, came during Women’s T20 Challenger earlier this year. Playing for Velocity, she hit 34 off 31 in a win over Trailblazers. The knock earned her rich praise from a team-mate, England’s Danni Wyatt. In fact, Wyatt predicted Shafali would soon play for India. Wyatt’s words have come true – the teenager is in the squad for the first three of the five T20I matches against South Africa from September 15 to October 4,

Shafali has replaced the iconic Mithali Raj, who recently announced her retirement from T20 cricket. “I know they are big shoes to fill, but I will do my best.”

The opener draws inspiration from Sachin Tendulkar and hopes to meet the maestro someday. “For that, I will have to retain my place in the side and do well. I remember when Sachin Sir came to Lahli for his last domestic match (in 2013). I was nine years old. He was staying close to my house. I wanted to meet him but could not. But I watched him play at the stadium. I remember asking my father, ‘can I play like him?’. He said with hard work, why not?. So here I am.”

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