Sport

The Hundred: Shafali Verma’s rise to world’s best T20 batter

The Hundred: Shafali Verma's rise to world's best T20 batter thumbnail
Venues: Eight grounds across the UK Dates: 21 July-21 August
Coverage: 10 men’s games live on BBC TV, eight women’s games live on BBC platforms and live text, radio commentary and in-play clips of every game. More details.

What do you do when you have just hit one of the world’s grumpiest bowlers for five consecutive fours?

If you’re Shafali Verma, you stand there and giggle while the bowler, England veteran Katherine Brunt, stomps away.

The 17-year-old has been on everyone’s radar since the T20 World Cup in 2020, where she hit bowlers around various Australia grounds for fun.

After impressing in the multi-format points series against England – where she scored 285 runs in eight innings – she will play for Birmingham Phoenix in the inaugural edition of The Hundred.

From pretending to be her brother so she could train, to becoming cricket’s next big thing, BBC Sport charts her rise to the top.

Verma grew up in Rohtak, a city in northern India, where young girls do not often pursue outdoor sports.

Both Verma and father Sanjeev, however, had different ideas. She wanted to play for India and her father could also see his daughter one day moving on to international honours.

It started with a narrow corridor at home, Verma at one end, her dad at the other, throwing ball after ball. Her love of the game grew, but it peaked when India great Sachin Tendulkar arrived in her hometown to play his final match in domestic cricket eight years ago.

Verma was there, desperate for a glimpse of a man she, and so many others describe as their idol. It was there, battling through crowds she remembers were “as big outside as they were inside”, that spurred her on to succeed.

Verma told The Guardianexternal-link how she and brother Sahil would join Sanjeev on a police training ground near their home. They earned five rupees from their dad for every six they could hit, while brother and sister had a competition to see who could flip over the giant tractor tyres that lay around the ground.

With no women’s set-up, and Verma needing to play more to progress, her father had an idea. His daughter’s hair was cut short – enough to allow her to pass as a boy – and that allowed entry into the local academy to train.

Later, she impersonated Sahil in order to play in the Under-12 boys’ tournament in Panipat, in northwest India.

She won man of the match and man of the series. At 15, international cricket came calling.

“Shafali Verma has wowed us all. She trained with the boys and defied tradition,” ex-India seamer Snehal Pradhan told BBC TV.

“The icing on the cake was beating Sachin Tendulkar’s 30-year recordexternal-link to score a 50 in an international game at just 15. She is just getting started.”

As India’s profile in the women’s game has grown, so has Verma’s. Her performances in the recent series against England attracted widespread attention on social media.

“Women’s cricket is nowhere close to popularity in front of men’s in India, but it’s a lot more known now – and Shafali is only helping the cause,” said BBC News journalist Vikas Pandey.

“She has definitely become a popular name. India is a young country, so many people identify themselves with her story.”

As an opposition player, Verma – whose Birmingham side host London Spirit on Friday – is an absolute nuisance to bowl to. She nearly drove 36-year-old Brunt to distraction in every format of the recent series.

Although gifted with easy power, she is not a slogger. Her Test match innings was proof of that. The ball makes a different sound when she hits it; even the defensive shots were positive, coming off the middle of the bat.

She will shuffle to one side, open up her leg and cart whichever unlucky bowler is in her eyeline over the ropes for six. As England spinner Sophie Ecclestone, 22, remarked: “You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Ecclestone, who will represent Manchester Originals, added: “It’s always interesting when me and Shafali match up in whatever format of the game it is.

“You never know if you’re going to get whacked over the top or she’s going to miss one. It is really interesting to bowl to her and it is good competition for me.”

Put simply, there are few players in cricket, men’s or women’s, that are as exciting, as powerful, or just downright fun to watch, as Shafali.

Oh, and she also does a cracking impression of England and Southern Brave batter Danni Wyatt…

The Hundred takes place from 21 July-21 August and will be broadcast across BBC platforms. You can find out more here.

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