From picking up the bat at the age of 10 while idolizing ‘God of Cricket’ – Sachin Tendulkar to representing India in the shortest format of the game, Shafali Verma’s rise has been nothing less than inspirational for every budding cricketer. On Tuesday, when skipper Harmanpreet Kaur announced her name in the playing XI for 1st T20I against South Africa – Shafali (15 years 239 days) became the youngest T20I debutant for India. She became the youngest women player to don the coveted Blue jersey after Gargi Banerjee (14 years 165 days). Sachin made his debut in international cricket at the age of 16 years 238 days. Shafali also considers Sachin as her role model and it was only after seeing her that she started playing cricket
Coming with a big reputation of a hard-hitting batswoman, Shafali earned her stripes after a sensational domestic season where she amassed 1,923 runs, including six hundreds and three half-centuries. Her fabulous strike-rate of close to 172 remains one of the most eye-catching aspects about her belligerent style of play. The 15-year-old batswoman was included in the India squad after veteran batswoman Mithali Raj announced her retirement from the T20I format last month.
“Jitne log Sachin sir ko andar dekhne ke liye khade the, utne hee bahar the (There were as many people outside the stadium as inside to get a glimpse of Tendulkar. Only then I realised how big a deal is to be a cricketer in India, especially when you are revered like Sachin sir,” Shafali told PTI.
“I was expecting this call-up to be honest. I had done well in domestic cricket and also in that big tournament in Jaipur. The recent camp at NCA also went well for me. So, yes I was hopeful,” Shafali added.
Talking about the first T20I, India women beat South African eves in a nail-biting encounter by 11 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series. Opening the batting with star batswoman Smriti Mandhana, Shafali failed to impress in her maiden outing as she departed for a duck.
Off-spinner Deepti Sharma picked up three wickets and bowled the same number of maiden overs to help the hosts script a sensational win.
Chasing a modest 131 for victory, South Africa were buoyed by Mignon du Preez’s gritty 43-ball 59 which kept them in the hunt. But Deepti’s three maidens strangled the visitors as they were bowled out for 119 in 19.5 overs to hand India 1-0 lead in the series. Player of the match Deepti ended with career-best figures of 3/8 from 4 overs.
India, led by Harmanpreet Kaur, will play five T20s against the Proteas.