Sanjeev Verma, father of Shafali Verma, the youngest T20 cricketer to play for India, has revealed he had to disguise his daughter as a boy in order to get her enrolled in cricket academies in his hometown of Rohtak. On her father’s instructions, a then nine-year-old Shafali had to chop her hair short, so she could look like a boy since each and every cricket academy in the city would deny her training.

“No one was ready to induct her in any academy because there was not a single one for girls in Rohtak. I literally begged them to give her a chance but in vain,” Sanjeev, owner of a jewellery shop in Rohtak, told Times of India in an interview. “I knocked on the doors of a lot of cricket academies but all I got was rejection. I decided to cut her hair, and took her to one of the academies and got her enrolled there as a boy.

“I was scared but no one noticed. But at the age of nine, every kid looks the same.”

Shafali earned her maiden India call-up early last month for the first three T20Is against South Africa women. When she took the field, at 15, she became the youngest Indian cricketer to play a T20I, although it wasn’t the most memorable debut, since Shafali, opening the batting, was dismissed for a four-ball duck. However, in the second game, she hit 46 off 33 upfront with five boundaries and two sixes to take India women to 140/4, in reply to which South Africa women could only manage 89 for 7.

“I am feeling a bit relaxed now, after the duck on debut. The senior players backed me after the first match and I am glad I contributed to the team’s victory,” Sanjeev added.

The road to realising a dream wasn’t the easiest for either Sanjeev or Shefali. He further revealed how he faced flak from his neighbours about Shafali taking up cricket.

“Neighbours and relatives started to taunt me. Your daughter plays with boys, girls have no future in cricket. I and my daughter were exposed to such scornful comments from society that anyone would get mentally scarred. But my daughter is very strong mentally. She told me once, ‘Papa one day they all will be chanting my name’,” Sanjeev said.

“When she first came on TV while playing for Velocity team in the Women’s T20 Challenge in May, all those who were criticising us were dumbstruck. I felt so proud.”