Shafali Verma was nine when she made that short journey to Lahli from her home in Rohtak, along with her father. She wanted to see her idol, Sachin Tendulkar, playing in his last Ranji Trophy match.
The Master Blaster didn’t disappoint her. He smashed an unbeaten 79 in the second innings to guide Mumbai to a four-wicket victory against host Haryana.
She came back home, determined: she wanted to play in front of such a crowd one day. A few days ago, her dream came true.
Plenty to cheer
Not only did she play in front of crowd of over 15,000 at the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium in Surat, but she gave them plenty to cheer about, too. In only her second international match, she smashed 46 off 33 balls to star in India’s 51-run win over South Africa in the fourth T20I.
And she this did at the age of 15 — one year younger than her idol was when he made his international debut. “I wanted to make a good score in that match and was determined to see off the opening overs,” Shafali told The Hindu at Surat a few days ago. “I want to play many more such innings for India.”
To play for India had been a dream all along for the Shafali, who packs quite a bit of power into her shots. “I was hoping that I would get a chance in this series,” she said. “I had also felt that I could be selected for the Women’s T20 Challenge at Jaipur a few months ago.”
And it was at Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium that she announced her arrival. She hit 34 off 31 and was immediately hailed as a star for the future.
“I enjoyed that experience at Jaipur,” she said. “Playing against foreign and senior Indian cricketers helped me greatly.”
She said she loved playing along with Mithali Raj at Jaipur, for Velocity. “I am also happy that I have been part of the Indian team that had Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana,” she said. “Those three are great batters.”
Among the batsmen, A.B. de Villiers is her favourite. “I also like Virat Kohli,” she said. “I have always had great respect for attacking batsmen, like Virender Sehwag.”
She had, of course, grown up watching Tendulkar. “The television would be switched off at our home when he got out,” she said. “My father and brother are also big cricket fans and used to play as well.”
But, the people in Rohtak were not enthused by the idea of a girl taking up cricket. “They would ask: what could a girl do?” she recalled. “I had long braids at that time; I chopped them off, and for a couple of months they probably did not realise that I was a girl, as I trained with boys.”