At a time when countless Indian girls of her age are worried about the result of their 10th standard exam results, Shafali Verma stood on the pristine green grass of the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground with tears running down her cheeks. The tears of a 16-year-old girl, but not just any teenager. Shafali, who less than a year after making her international debut for the Indian women’s cricket team had become the No 1 ranked batswoman in the game, had to be consoled after her team ended up second best in the final of the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.
After marching into the knockouts unbeaten in four straight matches – which included a fine win over hosts and eventual tournament winners Australia – Harmanpreet Kaur’s Indian women’s team was handed direct access to the final on account of their semi-final with England being washed out. Since India were unbeaten in the group stage, they were bumped straight into the summit clash.
On the day, their inexperience in such massive matches showed. Up against four-time T20 World Cup winners and defending champions Australia, India were smashed. Bowled out for 99 to lose by 85 runs. They dropped the two half-centurions of the final – Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney – early on and misfielded with regularity. Their four spinners, on whom much of their success in the group stage had been based, were played with stunning ease by Healy and Mooney as they laid the framework for a total of 184/4 with an opening stand worth 115 in 11.4 overs.
Shafali, whose sequence of rapid 20-plus scores as opener was pivotal in India winning four in a row – and whose nine sixes in the tournament were joint-best with Healy’s – was out second ball of India’s chase. As soon as she was given out after Healy held a neat catch standing up to the stumps off Megan Schutt, Shafali stood a while in disbelief.
Nine wickets later, and India had been defeated by a whopping margin. At the post-match formalities ensued, a weeping Shafali had to be consoled by some of her senior team-mates. The image captured attention on television and social media. It was a humanizing aspect of a player who had imprinted herself on the minds of many across the cricket-watching globe during the three weeks of the Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
A fine talent, a future icon for her ability to overcome the odds in a conservative state like Haryana, where women have long been treated as second-class citizens and ‘honour killings’ and sex-selective abortions are rife. The narrative of Shafali and her father Sanjeev, a jewelry repairer who sacrificed so much to ensure his daughter got a fair shot at becoming a professional cricket player, has already been widely told. From hearing relatives and friends and even strangers tell her father that he should not ‘ruin her life’ by allowing her to play sports, Shafali is now on the road to greatness as an Indian sportsperson.
What she has learnt during her time in Australia, time will tell. She didn’t get a fifty in the World Cup, but showed that she belonged at this level. She is 16, with so much time ahead. Her shot-making is bold, attractive and of a rare quality. She needs more arms around her shoulders, and for the likes of her skipper Harmanpreet, Smriti Mandhana, Shikha Pandey and Deepti Sharma to ensure they have her back. The hard yards put in will surely bring her success in the many years she will play for India. Shafali is the present and future of Indian women’s cricket.
On March 8 at the MCG she cried out of despair, hurt and frustration. One day, Shafali will weep tears of joy as she lifts a world trophy in India blue. You can be certain of it.