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Who Is Teenage Sensation Shafali Verma?

Stats Perform combs through the data on 16-year-old Shafali Verma, the Indian batter who lit up the Women’s T20 World Cup with her startling performances at the top of the order. Just how far can she go? 

By: Dan Atherton

As global sport watches on patiently to find out when competition can return, cricket must consider itself fortunate to have been able to host a major international tournament in 2020.

Taking place between February and March, the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup saw an abundance of stars blossom from a range of sides. Hosts Australia lifted the trophy for the fifth time after seeing off an India side making their maiden Women’s T20 World Cup final appearance. The women’s game is flourishing – the calendar feels as packed as it has ever been, with more international fixtures and well-promoted domestic competitions being added to the schedule each year.

One of the many storylines coming out of the Women’s T20 World Cup revolved around India’s Shafali Verma, a 16-year-old who made a real statement on the international stage. Verma, who grew up in the Indian city of Rohtak, has been likened to a rock star by legendary India opener Virender Sehwag, while ex-Australia fast bowler Brett Lee has called her fearless, and her rise has coincided with women’s cricket gaining popularity with fans and sponsors alike in India. But, how has the teenage sensation managed to make such an impression at such a young age and what aspects of her game can be developed?

Verma made her T20I debut last September in India’s series against South Africa. Coming into the T20 World Cup 2020 she’d clocked up a steady 324 runs (including two half-centuries) across her 14 knocks for India – impressive, given her age, but it’s not unfair to suggest she wasn’t making headlines internationally.

Her performances at the tournament soon changed that. Verma was the highest individual run-scorer in three matches during the World Cup, the most instances of any batter. It’s hardly surprising to note that no other cricketer picked up more Player-of-the-Match awards across the tournament than the Indian ‘rockstar’ (twice – level with Australia’s Alyssa Healy, New Zealand’s Hayley Jensen and England’s Heather Knight).

Women's T20 World Cup 2020 Batting Statistics

RankPlayerAgeTeamRunsInningsHighscoreAverageStrike Rate
1Beth Mooney26 Australia259681*64.8125.1
2Alyssa Healy29 Australia23668339.3156.3
3Natalie Sciver27 England202459*67.3113.5
4Heather Knight29 England1934108*64.3136.9
5Shafali Verma16 India16354732.6158.3

Verma ended the tournament as the fifth-highest scoring batter, a considerable achievement given her age compared to her peers.

When looking at how Verma went about making her runs during the World Cup, what jumps out is her dedication to driving the ball. 63% of her total runs at the tournament came from playing that stroke; the highest share of any batter to put up at least 50 runs.

Women's T20 World Cup 2020 - % Runs From Drives (50+ Total Runs)

PlayerTeamTotal RunsDrive Runs% of Total Runs
Shafali VermaIndia16310363%
Nattaya BoochathamThailand543462%
Laura WolvaardtSouth Africa945559%
Natthakan ChantamThailand1035957%
Lizelle LeeSouth Africa1196756%

Verma’s drive is a serious threat for any opposing outfit: her strike rate when unleashing it was a whopping 251. To give that context, only Maddy Green’s slog (272) and Heather Knight’s pull shot (270) were more explosive at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup (10+ attempts of a stroke).

Women's T20 World Cup 2020 - Best Strike Rate for Specific Shot (10+ Attempts)

PlayerTeamShot TypeAttemptedRunsStrike Rate
Maddy GreenNew ZealandSlog1130272.7
Heather KnightEnglandPull1027270.0
Shafali VermaIndiaDrive41103251.2
Heather KnightEnglandSweep1229241.7
Alyssa HealyAustraliaPull1126236.4

When we look at how Verma’s drive translates against other batters when they deploy the stroke, the contrast is stark with Verma’s strike rate of 251.2 by far the most aggressive. Given the explosive intent of the opening bat, it’s no surprise that Verma ranked as the batter with the highest overall strike rate in the tournament of anyone to face more than three deliveries (158.3).

Women's T20 World Cup 2020 Best Driving Strike Rate (10+ Drives Attempted)

PlayerTeamDrives AttemptedRunsStrike Rate
Shafali VermaIndia41103251.2
Chamari AtapattuSri Lanka3371215.2
Smriti MandhanaIndia1634212.5
Ashleigh GardnerAustralia2138181.0
Alyssa HealyAustralia72126175.0

Verma’s relentless aggression is what makes her such a danger to the opposition, but it’s also an approach to the game that’s fraught with risk. She was dropped on four occasions at the T20 World Cup; no other batter was dropped more than twice. Her high strike-rate style likely requires the odd bit of good fortune to be successful.

When it comes to her beloved drive shot, Verma is probably set for a classic conundrum that many batters face – the tightrope between a shot being a strength and a weakness. Whilst she had plenty of success with the drive, five of her last 10 dismissals in T20I cricket have come about from driving the ball. More specifically, four of the last 10 dismissals have been playing the drive when the ball pitches on a good length, suggesting that she can be tempted into playing aggressive strokes when pitching the ball up.

Despite this, Verma is in elite company. Only Aussie pair Beth Mooney (259) and Alyssa Healy (236) scored more runs as opening batters during the T20 World Cup (163). There’s a debate to be had about who the best two openers are in the T20 game right now, but it’s certainly not unreasonable to bring Mooney and Healy into the equation – they were presented with the Player-of-the-Series accolade for the last two editions between them (Healy in 2018 and Mooney in 2020).

A key difference between the Australian duo and the Indian youngster however, is Verma’s reluctance to even attempt blocking the ball – she did not log a single forward defensive shot throughout the World Cup, while Mooney and Healy were comfortable doing so, blocking 13 between them. It is not as though the Aussie pair play in a particularly different way to Verma –  they were the only two players to score more runs from drive shots than her. For the teen to develop therefore, given the opportunities she offered fielders and her aggressive style, it may be worthwhile for her to improve her ability to be circumspect when required. As we discovered with her recent dismissals, not all of balls on a good length have to be driven.

At the end of it all, we cannot forget the simple fact that Shafali is only 16 years of age and she has already scored more T20I runs before turning 17 than any batter ever – male or female. To score a significant percentage of those at the very highest level in a major tournament is yet another feather in her cap. Despite her age, she will surely be eyeing an ODI debut for India in the near future where she will enter a pantheon of greats

Women's T20Is - Most Runs Before Turning 17

PlayerTeamInningsRunsCurrently 16 or under?
Shafali VermaIndia19487Yes
Adri van der MerweNamibia19458No
Kavisha EgodageUnited Arab Emirates13209No

Between 2015 and 2019, 16 players managed to reach 1,500 runs in women’s ODI games. None of the four year spans before that (2010-2014, 2005-09, 2000-2004, 1995-1999, and pre-19995) have ever seen more than six achieve that feat. Whilst a portion of that can be attributed to the increase in games played, those games have been added because we are seeing more female cricketers make the jump to the elite level. A daunting challenge awaits Shafali Verma but considering what she has already achieved at such a tender age, it’s hard to bet against her.