28 February 2020

Meet Shafali Verma, the 16-year-old Indian batting prodigy who disguised herself as a boy to get her break

Shafali Verma wrote her name into the history books before a ball had even been bowled at the ICC Women's T20 World Cup in Australia.

In November 2019, aged just 15 years and 285 days, she smashed 73 off 49 balls against the West Indies, becoming the youngest Indian cricketer to score a half‑century in an international.

In doing so, she broke the record previously held by Indian legend, and Verma's hero, 'The Little Master' Sachin Tendulkar.

Having only turned 16 in January, Verma would have been forgiven if she showed nerves coming into the tournament, but the young batter had other ideas and has thrived on the big stage.

The youngster walked out to open in the first game and subsequently launched the first six of the tournament in India's historic win over Australia.

Continuing her form, she set the foundations for her side's second consecutive win in the tournament, taking the player of the match accolade after hitting 39 off 17 deliveries in their victory over Bangladesh.

Match three and there was no halting the hitting with her 46 from 34 balls helping India edge New Zealand in a nail-biter to book their place in the semi-finals.

In doing so she earned herself the player of the match award for the second game in a row.

For a batter so young, she already boasts an incredible CV, but the story behind the hitting is perhaps more remarkable.

Born in Rohtak, Haryana in 2004, she discovered her love for cricket watching Tendulkar play in his final domestic first-class match in 2013.

It was he who inspired her to follow her cricket dream but there were obstacles in the way, her gender in particular.

"That [watching Tendulkar] motivated me and I became serious for cricket and began to work hard to emulate my idol," she said.

She was rejected from local clubs because she was female so made the drastic decision to cut her hair and disguise herself as a boy. 

This paid off for Verma, who earned the man of the series award when she stepped in and pretended to be her brother during a tournament.

Verma cut her hair short to play for the boy's side (Twitter: @cricbuzz)

"Whenever I went out to play, boys would not take a small girl in their team, fearing I would get hurt.

"After cutting my hair I went to play with the boys," she said. "They did not even realise that I am a girl."

The young Indian discovered that, despite the overwhelming popularity of the sport, there was only one female academy in the area.

However, coaches recognised her talent and allowed her to continue at the boys' team.

Last year she was selected for the Velocity team in the women's T20 Challenge alongside the Indian Premier League and was hailed by team-mate, England's Danni Wyatt as the 'next super star' of Indian cricket.

Verma in action for the Trailblazers (Twitter: @IPL)

Since then, it's been onwards and upwards and she made her international T20 debut against South Africa in September 2019 aged 15 years and 239 days. 

Heading into the T20 World Cup she had amassed 324 runs from her 14 T20 innings at a staggering strike rate of 140.86.

For now, she's simply looking ahead to this weekend and the next challenge against Sri Lanka.

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