A little restraint, a lot of disdain in Shafali Verma’s flying start

WPL 2023

A little restraint, a lot of disdain in Shafali Verma’s flying start

“Main har match mein 50 maarne wali ladki hoon – main itna confidence apne aap mein rakhti hoon.”[I know I’m capable of hitting fifties in every game – that’s the confidence I have in myself].

Shafali Verma was honest in her self assessment that she hasn’t quite played to her potential at the highest level in recent times.

Not just conversations, this brazenness is also the hallmark of Verma’s batting. Right from the moment she walks in – chewing on gum, gyrating bat in hand and a determined devil-may-care look in the eye. Fist-bumps are her preferred mode of appreciation, and there was plenty of it around Meg Lanning on Sunday, when together they put on a record 162-run partnership in Delhi Capitals’ WPL 2023 opener to bat RCB out of the contest.

The two reigning World Cup-winning captains of the format arrived in the middle, set on making the most of the batting-friendly pitch once the expected early movement was dealt with. On any other day, perhaps, Verma would have gone after the bowling from ball one, and maybe even gotten out after providing a launchpad. Job done, no complaints. At brabourne, however, she showed restraint and cricket smarts can go hand in hand with attacking intent via her T20 career-best 45-ball 84.

With power as her USP, the Haryana opener knew she only had to now find the gaps to put the ball in and the quick outfield will ensure maximum returns. After being a bit circumspect at the start, the 19-year-old stepped out to a Megan Schutt full ball and flicked it over the mid-on’s head for her first four. An over later, she lofted an invitingly outside-off ball from Preeti Bose over mid-off and into the sight screen for first six of the game.

In a near flawless innings and hitting mostly in the V, Verma particularly feasted on the inexperience and rustiness of RCB’s spinners by using her feet to good effect – both backing away and stepping out – to fetch all of her four maximums against the slower bowlers. Amongst the pacers, she was the hardest on compatriot Renuka Thakur who she took for three fours in 12th over to up the ante after a 31-ball fifty had been reached. Calculated risks had made way for the team’s needs then, and she continued to lead. The next 34 runs took only 14 balls.

The century continues to elude the batting prodigy after Heather Knight induced an outside edge for the keeper, in the nick of time as death overs loomed. However, by the time a visibly dejected Verma walked back to the dugout she had duly been showered with accolades from a steadily building crowd at CCI that had otherwise reserved all the love for Smriti Mandhana-led RCB.

All of 19, Verma wears her heart on the sleeve, as was evident from a very pronounced fifty celebration – bat held like a trophy that she raised to her parents in the VIP stands at the CCI – which, she isn’t afraid to admit, was because she hadn’t seen one in a long time.

Verma thrice got starts in the recently-concluded World Cup group stages but couldn’t convert any into a match-winning contribution. Even though it came right after she led the U19 side to the inaugural World Cup – India’s first in the format and a campaign that she ended as the third-best batter across teams – the Rohtak-born wasn’t pacified with just the silver lining of ‘not at least getting out to poor shots at the end of the day’. At DC, she wanted to set the record straight but not at the cost of risking another perfectly good start.

“Yes, true, I showed restraint today,” Verma said after scripting Capitals’ 60-run victory. “If you look at some of my previous matches, I’d been getting out after playing good shots. Today, I could feel it that it was my day. So I had thought I’ll bat through. But I was quite disappointed with myself for getting out in the 80s to be honest. Because, today was my day and I couldn’t convert it into a hundred. This [opening platform DC had] would have been a perfect time to hit that hundred, what with my family also around to watch…. Because when you’re in the rhythm it’s important that you make the most of it. I had told myself that I won’t play a loose shot, that I’ll take my time and just keep believing that I can do it,” she added.

“Look, your fight is never with others, it’s with yourself. As a player, I’m fighting with myself and not trying to prove anything to anyone. Everybody knows my game and how I play. I just believe in myself and just want to prove it to myself, not anyone else. I try to score in every game but unfortunately it doesn’t always go your way. From my side, I always want to keep trying.

“When you’re going through a lean patch you’ll have a lot of tips coming your way, telling you what to do and and what not to do. But I’d say self-belief is very important in such phases.”

There were nerves here but Verma credited Lanning for helping her calm down. “It felt great, actually,” she said of the 162-run opening stand. “Lanning was backing me after every boundary, saying ‘good shot’ and ‘keep going, keep going’. I really value her appreciating me.

Fast-tracked after being called ‘the find’ of the four-game 2019 Women’s T20 Challenge, a 15-year-old Verma’s dreamy journey to the national team will always find itself a dedicated chapter in the origin story of the WPL. For now, she’s busy adding a few entries to the record books too.

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