First, let’s get some of the records out of the way.
On Thursday in Bristol, Shafali Verma — 17 years and 140 days old — walked out to bat for the first time in Test cricket. A youngster as talented as she is, is bound to create milestones when she bats well and her debut Test knock of 96 off 152 balls was no exception.
The day before, when she took the field after earning her India cap, she had already become the third youngest woman to play in the format for India. No mean feat. She had an interesting day on the field too, taking a sharp catch at short leg despite not looking entirely comfortable at the position, dived around while fielding in the ring to save runs. She looked up for it.
But it is with the bat in her hand, one she wields like a weapon, that the world was looking forward to watching her in action. With her half century, she became the second youngest woman to score a Test fifty on debut. Widening the criteria outside debutants, she was the fourth youngest to achieve the feat.
She hit a couple of sixes in her innings. Of course she did. What’s a Shafali innings of any note without the ball clearing the boundary line? In the process, she became the first Indian woman to hit two sixes in a Test innings (a feat that was also matched by England’s Lauren Winfield-Hill earlier in this match which now accounts for two of three such occurrences in women’s Tests — a sign of the times, hopefully). Oh, and there’s a nice little origin story we got to hear about her six-hitting skills too. A competition set by her father where she competed against her brother for a few bucks to see who could hit more.
When she was dismissed — going for a big shot when the ball lands in her hitting zone is something one can only hope Shafali never loses in her game — Shafali had made 96. Choosing the right delivery to hit, and the right shot to play to the said delivery is something she will get better at with time. Was she disappointed at getting out in the nineties? Of course, she was. Which batter doesn’t want a Test century on Test debut? But her score was already the highest ever by an Indian on Test debut.
Highest score by Indian women on Test debut
|Player||Runs||Opposition||Ground||Match start Date|
|Shafali Verma||92*||v ENG||Bristol||16 Jun 2021|
|Chanderkanta Kaul||75||v NZ||Nelson||7 Feb 1995|
|Shanta Rangaswamy||74||v WI||Bengaluru||31 Oct 1976|
|Sandhya Agarwal||71||v AUS||Ahmedabad||3 Feb 1984|
|Shoba Pandit||69||v WI||Bengaluru||31 Oct 1976|
The highlight of India’s day was the brilliant opening stand of 167 between Shafali and her veteran-yet-not-that-much-older partner Smriti Mandhana. It was a delightful contrast of styles as Mandhana used her skill of timing to caress the ball around the field (and especially so through cover) while Shafali used her strength to loft the ball into the gaps. Chalk and cheese, the two of them, when it comes to batting styles. But effective all the same. When their partnership ended, it was the highest for the first wicket by an Indian pair in Tests and the highest against English women. Among Indian women, Mandhana-Shafali’s partnership is the second highest for any wicket.
Highest opening partnerships in Tests
|Baluch-Shah||241||PAK Women||v WI||Karachi||15 Mar 2004|
|Atkins- Thompson||200||ENG Women||v IND||Lucknow||14 Jan 2002|
|Hagget-Clark||178||AUS Women||v IND||Sydney||26 Jan 1991|
|Mandhana-Shafali||167||India Women||v ENG||Bristol||16 Jun 2021|
Now that the records are out of the way, Shafali’s first day of competitive senior red-ball, multi-day cricket was more than just about the numbers she put up.
In just two days, she has shown that — given the chance and the proper guidance — she is ready for the toughest of challenges. Because facing an English bowling attack comprising of Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Nat Sciver and Sophie Ecclestone is no easy task in her first tour of England. Because she showed that she has the temperament to play the perfect forward defensive stroke or rock back and pat the ball to the bowler when she had to.
Sure, the occasional rush of blood is inevitable — like she went after Brunt in an over where she had already collected boundaries immediately after tea and just about survived a wild slog. Or like when she tried to go for a big shot against Kate Cross’ full-length delivery to eventually be dismissed. But this innings of 96 showed she has also been learning the art of patience, of biding her time, of knowing when to strike.
“Every time I play a series, I try to make sure that I learn from that ahead of the next series. Now ahead of my Test debut, I focussed on choosing balls to go after. I worked on my fitness. So it feels good when I can contribute to the team, that is all my effort is towards,” she said after the match.
What was interesting was not just the shots that Shafali did play, it was also those she didn’t. She added in the press conference that the lighter moments on the field with Mandhana were about some of the loose balls were not getting put away. “We were talking about how if stayed long enough in the middle, we can score off the loose balls. But we got a few full tosses here and there that we didn’t put away, because we were focussed on playing the ball straight,” she said.
Her Test debut was another sure shot sign that this is a talent like no other in the country right now, and that she deserves as many grand stages as possible to grow; to astound the audience.
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