CHANDIGARH: No one knew at that time, but Sachin Tendulkar’s final domestic match became the setting of a most unlikely passing of baton.
In the crowd, seated on her father’s shoulders at the Bansi Lal Stadium in the cricketing outpost of Lahli in Haryana, was a nine-year-old chanting the hero’s name, ‘Saaachin, Sachin!’
That was 2013. Six years later, on Saturday, life came full circle. The same girl, Shafali Verma, now 15 years and 285 days old, shattered her idol’s 30-year-old record when she became the youngest Indian to score an international fifty in the first T20 international against the West Indies in St Lucia. Tendulkar was 16 years and 214 days when he notched up his maiden half-century (59, versus Pakistan in the second Test at Faisalabad on Nov 23, 1989). At 15 years and 267 days, UAE’s Kavisha Egodage is the youngest woman to score an international 50 (57* against Malayasia in Jan 2019).
The Rohtak teen has had an extraordinary journey. On October 3, TOI had reported about how she had to be enrolled in the guise of a boy after being refused admission in the city’s cricket academies since she was a girl.
TOI had also highlighted how the teenaged sensation made her mark in only her second outing for India, smashing a brilliant 46 off just 33 balls against South Africa, last month.
Such was the brilliance of Shafali’s batting on Saturday, it moved coach WV Raman to urge people to catch it on YouTube. “Folks, make it a point to watch Shefali Verma’s innings in the first T20 on you tube.. You will not regret the time spent,” tweeted the former Indian Test opener.
Shafali and seasoned opener Smriti Mandhana stitched an unbeaten 143-run opening partnership to set the tone for India’s 84-run victory.
Meanwhile, Rohtak was lapping up the adulation. Ashwani Kumar, Shafali’s coach for the past four years, remembered how she would prove a handful for the state’s U-19 boys.
“She was just nine when she came to our Ram Narain Academy and the girls were no match for her. So, I started playing her with the U-19 boys. She used to take the U-19 bowlers to the cleaners,” said the former Haryana opener and state team ex-coach.
On her impact as a power-hitter, Kumar, pointed out: “I know everyone is quite shocked with her fearless approach. Four years ago, I was also stunned when I first saw her batting. She is a bottom-handed batswoman and relies on the punch shots.
“If you saw the match, you noticed she milked ones and twos and was rotating the strike. At such a tender age she doesn’t feel nerves, she was calm and calculated. She is a natural talent, just like Sachin was,” he said. “She has only played five T20s so far but I can assure you she will excel in all forms of the game. Mark my words, this is just the beginning.”
With the women’s T20 World Cup to be held in Australia in February-March next year, Shafali’s power-hitting at the top along with Smriti’s experience will definitely be a treat for the fans.