It was an outrageous shot. India’s teenage sensation Shafali Verma seemed initially a little late to pick up a full and straight delivery from Bangladeshi quick Panna Ghosh.
Verma calmly adjusted and with minimal backswing merely chipped the ball down the ground. Except it kept going – as if the ball was propelled by a strong wind – and sailed over the rope for six. A loud contingent of Indian fans in the terraces of the iconic WACA ground went crazy.
Scribes quickly looked up at the television monitors to grasp what they had seen high in the press box. The reporters knew the magnetic Verma was going to be the hook of their copy.
The incredible stroke underlined some obvious things – her improvisation, sweet timing and raw power. It was the 16-year-old’s fourth six in just 15 balls as she raced to 39 only to hole out two balls later attempting another mighty blow.
Her pyrotechnics show in Perth ended and India eventually claimed a workmanlike 18-run victory to remain unbeaten, but everyone was still giddy over player-of-the-match Verma’s brutal knock. Not many cricketers can leave you breathless over just 17 deliveries – Shafali Verma certainly does.
She’s living up to the hype in spades. Anticipation was palpable for Verma, who only turned 16 last month and is still at school, heading into the tournament after making history last November when she smashed a 49-ball 73 against the West Indies to become the youngest Indian to score a half-century.
Verma eclipsed the mark of legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who was coincidentally her inspiration to take up cricket as a nine-year-old. Underlining the difficulty females have to play cricket in more conservative parts of India, Verma was discouraged to pursue her newfound passion.
In a desperate bid to play cricket, she showed inventiveness and fearlessness – which have become staples of her batting – by cutting her hair and disguising herself to look like a boy to fill in for her sick brother in a match.
Quite clearly, she was going to fulfill her dreams. After two strong performances, the first when she toyed defending champions Australia, Verma is poised to become the breakout player of the ongoing women’s T20 World Cup in Australia. There is nothing better than watching a phenomenon put the pieces together – much like Zion Williamson right now in the NBA.
The opener has not been daunted facing the world’s best bowlers on the biggest stage. Remarkably confident for her age, Verma’s methodology is simple – dominate from the get go and repeatedly land blows over the in-field during the power play.
“We haven’t asked her (Verma) to change anything,” India quick Shikha Pandey told reporters after the match.
She’s been given free licence to be the aggressor – a role more suited for a seasoned veteran. Verma can land belligerent blows being already stronger than many of her counterparts.
But she can also play gorgeous textbook cricket shots more fitting of the longer formats. Once she better understands the nuances of the game – like how to bat in tempo – Verma will perhaps become the gold standard of batting. It will come with experience and maturity.
But, right now, it’s an incredible opportunity to savor the brashness of youth. Even her teammates are in awe. “At 16, I hadn’t even started training to become a cricketer. She’s amazing,” Pandey said.
Verma’s swagger is fueling an increasingly confident India, who just might be the favorites after early stumbles for powerhouses Australia and England. India had long played catch up to those pioneering countries, but perhaps the harbinger was their incredible performance at the 50-over 2017 World Cup when they stunned Australia before losing a thrilling final to hosts England at Lord’s.
Popularity for the team skyrocketed and the sleeping giant awoke. More investment has been made and national players have become better paid. A fully-fledged women’s Indian Premier League is likely to expand after starting off as an exhibition in 2018.
When cricket-crazy India set their mind on conquering something in cricket, it’s hard for them not to succeed given their governing body’s abundance of wealth and the country’s massive populace.
A historic Indian triumph would no doubt take the game to another level and make their players household names in a country with more than a billion people.
Stardom is already following Verma but team officials are being wary of burdening her. She has been shielded from the press allowing her bat to do the talking.
After two matches, Verma has stolen the show amid an intriguing women’s T20 World Cup. Every match has been competitive – even cricket newcomers Thailand briefly scared the West Indies – with several being particularly absorbing to underline the growth of women’s cricket.
Some teams still tend to rely on a handful of players but the depth is getting better. Fielding – particularly catching – and running between the wickets will sharpen. Players will become physically stronger as the game professionalizes broadly.
But the overall quality of play has been highly impressive and players are conjuring breathtaking moments that might have seemed unimaginable previously.
Shafali Verma already has had her share.