Coronavirus outbreak: Shafali Verma can't train in gym due to lockdown

Updated: Mar 24, 2020, 14:46 IST | Harit N Joshi | Mumbai

India's teenaged cricket star Shafali Verma can't train in the gymnasium due to lockdown in Rohtak, Haryana, but she is batting at home and loving it

Shafali Verma en route her 46 during a T20 World Cup league match v NZ at Melbourne last month. Pic/PTI
Shafali Verma en route her 46 during a T20 World Cup league match v NZ at Melbourne last month. Pic/PTI

From becoming India's youngest T20I debutant at 15 to being the world's youngest to play in a World Cup final [v Australia] at 16 and also holding the World No. 1 ranking for a brief period during the T20 World Cup, Shafali Verma's career trajectory has only gone from strength to strength.

The Rohtak lass made heads turn with her brutal shots during the recently-concluded T20 World Cup where she scored 163 runs in five matches to end up as the fifth-highest run-getter in the tournament.

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced her to stay indoors but she is not lying low. "I go for an early morning run and I am doing a bit of fitness [related to my leg injury] at home. I used to bat for a bit in the nets when there was no one at the Shri Ram Narayan Cricket Academy. But after the lockdown, I have started practising at home. My gym routine has taken a hit because of the lockdown," Shafali told mid-day from her residence in Haryana..

The forced break has also given Shafali some "extra time" to prepare for her Class X Board exams, which were postponed due to the pandemic.

Shafali was the toast of the nation in India's World Cup campaign. Her ability to strike the ball hard made everyone sit up and take notice. The tournament has made her a household name in the country. "I knew the time had come to show the hard work that I put in for the last seven to eight years ever since I started playing cricket. To perform in a World Cup is always a dream. My father [Sanjeev] always said that if I performed in a World Cup, the entire world would know me. I am glad to perform for my team. I am disappointed that we could not win the title. "I learnt a lot from the tournament. I understood the highs and lows in just one tournament. This was my biggest learning," she said reflecting on her performance.

With the experienced batters having a poor run in the T20 World Cup, in-form Shafali became the key of the Indian batting.

The "freedom" provided to play her natural game by coach WV Raman and "support" from her skipper Harmanpreet Kaur proved to be defining factors in Shafali's success.

"I don't take any pressure. It is not that I have been scoring big runs every time. I have also got out on low scores many times. I believe in God. Whatever the almighty has decided for me, it will happen no matter what. I just work hard and give my 100 per cent every time I enter the field. It has never been my mindset to slow down my innings if I come close to the half-century or hundred. I try to maintain the same momentum because my team come first," she said.

The only time Shafali failed to click was in the final while chasing Australia's 184-4. She was caught behind for two as India folded up for 99 in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground.

"I played the wrong shot. I wanted to take the attack on the opposition from Ball One because that was the only way we could have won. While I was crying, everyone told me that this is just the start of my journey. They reminded me it is not the end of the world. It was just one bad game," she recalled.

It requires a special talent to take the world's best bowlers to the cleaners on a consistent basis at just 16. Shafali provided an insight on her mental make-up: "I just had around 10 days to prepare for the World Cup. I would like to thank Haryana Cricket Association officials. Anirudh [Chaudhry] sir. My coaches Ashwani and Aman sir. I have been facing U-19, U-23 and Ranji Trophy bowlers in the nets for last few years. That helped me a lot. My aim is to attack the main bowlers because if I am successful in doing that, I can dominate all bowlers," she said.

Shafali's aggressive starts reminded many of explosive Indian opener Virender Sehwag. However, Shafali's idol has always been Sachin Tendulkar. "I have his initials 'ST' written on my gear—my bat, gloves, caps, pads. I am just crazy about him," said Shafali, who met the legend in Australia where he was for a recent charity match.

Her World Cup success got her an endorsement deal with a top beverage company. By now, Shafali would have ended up attending many felicitation functions on her arrival from Down Under, but the Coronavirus outbreak has spared her from extra attention.

Coach Raman told mid-day in a recent interview that Shafali should be allowed to focus on her cricket and the batting superstar is confident of handling the pressure of expectations. "I don't think too much. I have come up the hard way. Whatever I have achieved is because of the almighty," she signed off.

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