15-year-old Rohtak born Shafali Verma recently entered her name in the record books as she became the youngest ever woman cricketer to debut for the Indian team in T20Is after receiving a call-up for South Africa’s tour of India.
This young star-in-the-making joins Female Cricket for an exclusive chat as she talks about her life, family, school, cricket and of course, idolizing Sachin Tendulkar.
1) When did your cricketing journey begin? How did it all start?
I come from a cricket-freak family. Everybody in my family loves this sport. In 2013, Sachin Tendulkar sir was at Lahli, Haryana (near Rohtak) to play his last Ranji trophy game and I went to see that match. It was super crowded! We got tickets after a lot of struggle. That’s when it all began. I saw him play and after every shot, he got so much cheer from the crowd. I had already started playing tennis-ball cricket by then and this inspired me a lot. There was this guest house where he was staying, I used to go there every day and wait for hours to get a chance to meet him but couldn’t.
2) When did you start idolizing Sachin Tendulkar?
My entire family loves him. My father used to show me his batting videos from the very beginning. He’s everybody’s favorite at my house. As I said, it started with the Ranji trophy game and he has been my source of inspiration ever since.
3) Tell us something about your family and their love for cricket?
I have an older brother and a little sister. My brother plays cricket as well. In fact, it was my father’s dream to be a cricketer. I remember my father taking my brother for training and I used to pester him saying even I want to play and I turned out to be a natural. And eventually, I was given more importance. I was a fast learner and it all turned out well.
4) How did you get into the domestic cricket circuit?
I trained with my father for the initial 3 years. He’s the one who taught me all the basics. By the end of the second year of my training, I got into the U16 state team and was leading it. By this time I was playing from my school and our team had even gone for the Nationals, that’s how I got into the U16 team. For the past two years, I’ve also been training at the Ram Narayan Cricket Academy. Eventually, I went on to play even for the U19, U23 and Senior Teams.
5) You played the Women’s IPL for the Velocity team this year. How was that experience?
It was amazing. I got to meet and play with all the national and international players. It was a great learning experience because of everyone, Mithali di, Harman di,
Danielle Wyatt – who happens to be one of my favorites. One thing she told me that I won’t ever forget is “never change your game”.
6) Something we all noticed about you in the WIPL is your hitting. How do you manage to play so fearlessly at such a young age?
That’s how I have been trained by my father from the very beginning. I was made to play with the boys. He told me to hit fearlessly and I have been doing that ever since. I cannot imagine not playing that way.
7) How difficult is it to manage both – being a professional cricketer and handling school?
Very difficult. I had to skip my grade 10 exams this time because I had my U23 One Day games during that period and I obviously couldn’t miss them. I’m totally into cricket but education is important too and hence I have to continue.
8) But do you really enjoy studying?
(Laughs) Even you know what the answer to this question is going to be.
9) Anyone you admire from the current Indian Men’s Team?
All the players are good and have been performing very well for us and I admire them all, but for me, Sachin sir is irreplaceable. He’s the God of cricket. He’s my only favorite as he’s always been. I remember the day I saw him playing live, the applause he got after every shot he played. I knew that’s what I wanted. I asked my dad if I could be like him one day – play games, get this applause at every ground. My father said, “if you work hard nothing is impossible”. I knew that’s what I had to do. So it all started because of Sachin sir, all the serious hard work.
10) Do you know your idol debuted at 16 years and you did before him, at 15?
Yes and that was always my target (laughs). I always had in mind that I have to represent my country before Sachin sir had.
11) Any bowler you love hitting? And anyone you find difficult to face?
There’s no one I can say I love hitting, but yes when Jhulan di bowls its fun to bat. With all the pace and everything, it’s challenging and fun. Difficult, no one for me yet.
12) How has Haryana Cricket supported your journey?
I owe Haryana Cricket a lot. They have been very supportive and have been making sure I get all the facilities. Again, even they make me practice with the guys to improve my game and it has been working. Their support is invaluable.
13) And how is it been playing under the leadership of Mithali Raj?
It has been great. I had never even imagined that I will one day play with her. It’s unbelievable. She is very inspiring and has certainly motivated and helped me and my game a lot.
14) Lastly, as a cricketer, what’s your next target?
Just to play and perform well for team India and do the nation proud whenever I get a chance to.
It was refreshing to see a girl this young ooze confidence and we’re sure she has a long way ahead.