Dad’s novel idea perfected Shafali’s big-hitting prowess

When the Indian women team’s batter, Shafali Verma, was entering her teens, her father would take her and her older brother to a ground near their house and engage in a competition that would see the three bat for a reward of Rs.5 or sometimes Rs.10.

Shafali, who won Player of the Series award in the T20I series against South Africa on Tuesday despite India losing the series, played some scintillating knocks in the series. She hammered a 30-ball 60 on Tuesday night to lead India to a consolation win.

“She learnt to play attacking cricket from an early age. One of the things that helped her get into the attacking mould was a drill that we did together. I would pick an odd time, after 11 am or so, and take her and my son Sahil to the ground. I chose odd time to ensure there would be no crowd. Each of us would face six balls and whoever would hit most sixes or fours would get a reward of Rs.5 and sometimes Rs.10,” father Sanjeev Verma, who runs a jewellery shop on Railway Road in Rohtak, told IANS.

“For a 12 or 13-year-old, Rs.5 or Rs.10 was great. This drill went on daily for about four months and the base of her big-hitting was set,” adds Verma.

When Shafali was just a nine-year-old, Verma had taken her to get admitted to the local Shri Ram Narain Academy, run by former Haryana coach Ashwani Kumar.

“We did not have money to enroll her back then. But when she started doing well in school games tournaments (School Games Federation of India-run events) and I realised that there was no future in that, I decided to enroll her as 12-year-old to Shri Ram Narain Academy. We had by then managed the money too. She never looked back and was supported by coach Ashwani and Ranbir Singh Mahendra [former BCCI president],” added Verma.

Ashwani Kumar says Shafali was always a hard-hitter.

“At the start when we saw her talent, when she was less than 12, we began making her practice with the boys — with the current Ranji Trophy players like medium-pacers Ashish Hooda, Sumit Kumar, Ajit Chahal, and off-spinner Amit Rana,” he says.

“She plays fearless cricket and has god-gifted talent. She has a good hand-eye coordination.”

Father Verma says that they realised fairly early that Shafali would succeed only through hard-hitting.

“We realised that if she hits big and hard, only then would she get through. So, we worked on that aspect,” he added.

During the lockdown last year, it helped that the old equipment like dumb-bells of Shafali’s father were at home.

“During lockdown she practiced with hanging ball and also did shadow practice. She ran up and down the staircase,” said Verma.

Shafali was ignored for the ODIs and not picked in the Indian team that lost the series to South Africa women 4-1 just prior to the T20Is.

The right-handed batter, however, says she needs to work on fitness.

“I need to work more on my fitness, and [getting picked for] one-day side would be my goal. Not getting named in the ODI squad is a motivation for me, really, to play even better and break into the side. I wasn’t too disappointed but I saw it as a huge motivating factor,” she said after Tuesday’s match-winning innings in Lucknow.