Fifteen-year-old Shafali Verma from Rohtak is the youngest Indian cricketer to score a fifty in international match, surpassing her idol Sachin Tendulkar, who had notched up his maiden Test fifty 30 years ago at the age of 16.
A nine-year-old from Rohtak sat on her father’s shoulder to see her cricketing god Sachin Tendulkar play his last Ranji Trophy at the Bansi Lal Stadium in Lahli, Haryana. Each time, the legend scored, she cheered — Saaachin, Sachin…. and a tsunami of hand-waves and loud cheers swept across the stadium. That was circa 2013. Cut to 2019, and the little girl Shafali Verma (now 15) has broken her idol Sachin Tendulkar’s record to become the youngest Indian cricketer to score a fifty in international match. Shafali achieved the feat (against West Indies at St. Lucia) at 15 years and 285 days, surpassing batting legend Tendulkar, who had notched up his maiden Test fifty 30 years ago at the age of 16 years and 214.
Breaking Tendulkar’s record is a commendable feat but also ironical because Shafali is a great fan of the Little Master Blaster. “If you look at all her books or note books, she has written the initials SV-ST. Initially, myself and her teachers at her two schools (St. Paul School and Mandeep Public School) were clueless. Later, we realised that the initials meant Shafali Verma-Sachin Tendulkar,” says her elated father Sanjeev Kumar, who owns a small jewellery shop in Rohtak.
Shafali has never met the cricketing legend but she did watch Tendulkar play his last Ranji Trophy match. “She was just nine that time. We never imagined that she would break her idol’s record one day. We don’t know what she will say to Sachin Tendulkar if she ever gets an opportunity to meet the legend,” adds Kumar. He and his wife Parveen Bala spoke to Shafali after the match and she is obviously “very happy”. But to break the glass ceiling and prove her mettle, the tomboyish looking Shafali had to go through a lot of hardships and rigorous training. Some of her neighbours mocked when she played cricket. In fact, she trained with the boys while growing up since there were no academies for coaching girls in her hometown Rohtak. “There were hardly any girls coming to play the game of cricket with the boys. The neighbours were laughing at her but now they have started appreciating the girls,” recalls Kumar.
With sheer grit and passion for the game, Shafali not only proved her talent, but she excelled in the game. She outperformed many boys from the academy. Today, she is the youngest cricketer to play for India. At her debut match in September 2019 at Surat against South Africa women’s team, Shafali was out for nought. “We have advised her to keep her feet on the ground. She has a long way ahead and has to score many more runs and make records not only for herself but also for the country,” says her proud father.
A Class X student, Shafali is not too impressive with her studies and marks in the classroom but she makes up for it with her hits and runs on the field, doing not just her parents but the entire nation proud. “She had failed once but she wants to study and appear for the examination again. Now, she hardly has the time since she is busy playing cricket all the time,” says Kumar.
Shefali has done her secondary education from two schools. “No girls played cricket till Shafali joined the school in Class V,” recalls St. Paul School principal Kalvinder Sidhu, adding, “After seeing her enthusiasm and zeal for the game, I requested our school coach Sunil Vats to start a cricket academy for girls. Now there are many girls playing cricket in Rohtak.”
After failing her Class 10 exam, Shafali joined the Mandeep Public School, also being owned by the same management. She is now a student of Mandeep Public School. “It is a proud moment for our school. Once she returns home from the West Indies, the school will felicitate Shafali and her family,” says an elated Asha Chavla, principal of Mandeep Public School.
Interestingly, Shafali’s younger sister, Nensi, who is just seven wants to be a cricketer too and her elder brother Sahil (17), also plays cricket. They both train at the Ram Narayan Cricket Academy, which is run by two former Haryana Ranji Trophy brothers — Aman and Ashwini Kumar.
According to her coach, Ashwini Kumar, Shafali watched Sachin Tendulkar play his last Ranji Trophy match at Rohtak. “She liked his game so much that she decided to become a cricketer. Shaifali is a clean hitter of the cricket ball. She loves hitting over lofted shot straight down the ground and through mid-wicket region.” Impressed with her mind-blowing game and mental strength, Shafali was picked for Haryana U-23 in 2017-18. “In the next season (2018-19) she scored almost 1,200 runs in different age groups in domestic cricket. She was picked for the women’s IPL matches in 2019 and has never looked back since,” says coach Kumar.
Interestingly, seeing Shafali’s skill and power, her coach is training her with the boys. “Since last 12 months, we have put her to play with the Ranji Trophy boys. Shafali has boyish looks. She is just 15 years old and has a strong physique. She works hard in the academy gym. She keeps her hair short as it is easy to maintain and play,” adds her coach Kumar.