Five years ago, a starry-eyed Shafali Verma wrestled through a vociferous crowd at the nondescript Lahli ground to get a glimpse of her idol, Sachin Tendulkar, and the moment that inspired the then 10-year-old to take up the game.

On Thursday, the 15-year-old was picked to play for India. It was not just another match, it was a landmark occasion – Tendulkar playing his final Ranji Trophy game ahead of his international retirement.

Jitne log Sachin sir ko andar dekhne ke liye khade the, utne hee bahar the [There were as many people outside the stadium as inside to get a glimpse of Tendulkar]. Only then I realised how big a deal is to be a cricketer in India, especially when you are revered like Sachin sir,” Verma was quoted as saying by PTI.

The big-hitting right-hander earned her first India call-up for the T20 series against South Africa. “I can never forget that day. My cricketing journey started from there.”

One of the youngest players to be picked for India, the rise of the Rohtak-born opener has been remarkable. She started playing the game five years ago and has already played three seasons for Haryana.

She has spent hours training that involved flipping tyres for endurance training. Verma first attracted attention with her performances in the 2018-’19 Inter-State Women’s T20 tournament where she hammered 128 off 56 balls against Nagaland.

The selectors were convinced of her rare talent when she made 34 off 31 balls in the Women’s T20 Challenge in Jaipur earlier this year against an attack comprising well known international names.

“I was expecting this call-up to be honest,” Verma said. “I had done well in domestic cricket and also in that big tournament in Jaipur. The recent camp at NCA also went well for me. So, yes I was hopeful.”

While Tendulkar was one big reason she took to the sport, her father, a jeweller by profession also played a big role.

“My papa always loved the game, he wanted to pursue it but could not do that. He thought he could fulfil his cricketing dream through me. He took me to the nearby academy and I did not look back from there on. Now my five year siblings also want to play for cricket. My elder brother also plays.”

Known for her big-hitting prowess, Verma said tennis ball cricket in her early days made her the attacking batter that she is now. And what is her favourite shot? “Stepping out to the spinners and hitting them for a straight six.”

Verma added, “Mithali di [Mithali Raj] and Harman di [Harmanpreet Kaur]. I met all the players recently at the NCA. I didn’t get to spend time with Harman di but Mithali di gave me confidence and told me to be mentally strong.”