Block, Grind, Hold: The Rise and Rise of Shafali Verma

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Mohit sharma remembers seeing some of the features before. The intrepid play of punches, the solidity of the defense, the clarity of the approach, the apparent lack of nerves. “Never before had I seen a bat girl like that or with that kind of easy, fearless attitude,” he says.

Sharma, who last played for India’s men’s team in 2015, followed the England vs India Bristol Test on TV. “This is the first time I have had the opportunity to see women playing Test cricket,” he said on a phone call. But there is an element of familiarity to this new experience.

About five months ago, at a camp for the Haryana men’s team, the national team he represents, Sharma played half a dozen practice matches against Shafali Verma. And he threw the nets too. So the 96 and 63 that 17-year-old Verma scored in the single test, becoming the youngest woman to hit her 50s when she debuted in the test, didn’t quite surprise him.

“In camp, Shafali handled the new ball with ease,” Sharma recalls. “It didn’t matter to her if the pointers were going 135 km / h or faster, or what the stature or skill of the bowlers was. In all of those five-six games, she confidently survived a good 15-18 overs opening the game. stick. So scoring points wasn’t his only achievement. “

This also ringed true for Verma’s performance in Bristol. She beat most of days two and three, and almost an entire session on day four, trying to get the upper hand on England’s first 396 innings, then a 165 deficit. faced through the two innings, the second by an Indian debutante in the women’s tests, were as much a justification of her talent as a bulldozer of the perceptions surrounding her.

Prior to this test, 75 percent of its 617 international races had crossed the limits. Capped only in T20I, its 29 sixes, the most by any T20Is player since her debut in September 2019, and its ranking # 1 in format, testify to its capabilities. In the Test against England, her record of three sixes, the highest by a female debutant in the Test, did not hurt her reputation as a great hitter.

But broken down into its individual components, her winning debut as Player of the Match was notable also for its more basic and less dazzling facets. Blocking, squealing, restraint, all high elbows, flexible wrists – and doing it for extended phases of play.

“Shafali, [as] we know, has a range of shots and it can be very effective in a format like this if it throws, ”said Mithali Raj, India Test and ODI captain, after the game. in no time we could see the the score would be somewhere else if she went. And once we knew it was a second-hand box office and there wouldn’t be a lot of movement, we figured it would be a good time to make its test debut, and she lived up to it. “

Prior to his dismissal in the second set, Verma’s approach in the opening half hour of the final day was a character study as well as a test. Sophie Ecclestone started with briefs and a short leg up. His left arm rotation was largely tilted into the body, with the drift playing its part, and Verma responded with only forward presses and straight back foot strides.

Three overs later, in Ecclestone’s third of the day, Verma threatened to come off, starting with a reverse shot, right in the middle of the bat, over the bowler’s head. The delivery in the air was transported to the fence. To hell with detention.

The start of the end was reminiscent of the four momentum changes she had beaten Brunt on day two en route to her record. Opening stand of 167 races with Smriti Mandhana. The end of that, with Verma offering a catch to Ecclestone, was a reminder that the Bristol test was, after all, the teenager’s first red ball game.

“Personally, [I felt] his fifty in the second inning was a very nice fifty, ”said Raj. “The 96 she scored was a good move, but the fifty came with a little more sorted head and a little more experience. The nicely timed rides… It was wonderful to watch her. “

Verma was sacked long before India saved the game, hence it looked like their three-game winning streak in the format was going to be imminently shattered. The raffle, being broadcast live to a global audience, could have extensive and lasting ripples.

For starters, Verma is still not capped in ODIs. For the home series against South Africa in March, she did not receive a summons for the 50-overs mission. (Team management or the managers have never explained why.) But Bristol’s test left little room for uncertainty to cloud Verma’s immediate future.

The tour of England is now moving to its limited part. A 50-year first appearance for India in the Three ODI series should only be a matter of time (one week). Overall, discussions around combining play and setting competitive totals for the opening rounds leading up to the 2022 ODI World Cup need to start revolving around Verma’s role.

“I’m sure from now on she will get better and better and be very, very important for the Indian team in all formats,” said Raj. “She adapted beautifully to this format. She didn’t like how she would go crazy in the T20 format. Sensibly, she played the new ball and it’s great to have it.”

It couldn’t be more ironic that Verma now sits at the top of the list of most races by a Test newbie without a first class cap. The Bristol draw was India’s first test in nearly seven years. The three-day senior women’s zonal tournament, the only national national red ball event, ceased to exist after the 2017-18 season. The absence of a national Under-16 competition means that an entire population remains unexploited or underexposed or both until players reach the Under-19 and Under-23 competitions.

Against the backdrop of the dearth of a well-defined course for female cricketers in India, Verma’s journey to a test cap remains somewhat of a study of the relationship between intention and talent development. At the Haryana men’s camp earlier this year, Verma was the only player. It was the Haryana Cricket Association, its state unit, that enabled Verma to regularly hit the net, in practice matches, and participate in fitness sessions alongside the men’s games.

“I even had to remind my bowlers, ‘Aisa nahi hona chahiye ke tum log ladki soch ke ball dalo aur woh tumhari pitayi karey (Don’t be indulgent with her because she’s a girl; she might take you to the cleaner), ”recalls Sharma, who led the opposing team in practice matches featuring Verma at the camp. ‘Haryana. 100 per cent. There was no clemency because she is a girl. We knew we were up against a good hitter. “

Despite the scarcity of the international women’s cricket test and a structure that helps the planned and long-term development of Indian female cricketers, Verma’s record-breaking debut in the longest format remains an unparalleled achievement. Imagine what could happen if India in fact set out to find talent by design, not by accident.

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