Shafali Verma is still 17. But she is already the youngest half-centurion for India in international cricket, has been the number one ranked T20 batter in international women’s T20s, and most recently notched the highest score for an Indian debutant in women’s Test cricket.

Playing in her maiden Test match at Bristol, in the one-off England v India game, she put on an opening stand of 167 runs with southpaw Smriti Mandhana. Verma fell short of four runs on what would’ve been a historic hundred, but nonetheless dedicated it to all those who have been part of her cricketing journey.

“I know my father, my family, my Association, my team and academy will miss those 4+ runs more than me but I will make it up to them on other occasions. They have all been a huge support,” she tweeted after stumps on Day 2.

Despite the fledgling nature of her career, it’s already been rather eventful.

Verma enjoyed a memorable run in the T20 World Cup in Australia last year, at the mere age of 16. She scored 163 runs at an average of 32.60 at impressive strike rate of 158.25, with her team falling just short at the final hurdle.

But the pandemic forced a year-long absence of international cricket for the Indian women’s team. The bilateral series against South Africa earlier this year ended this spell, but Verma was omitted from the ODI squad.

“I worked very hard on my skills, physical and mental, after the T20 World Cup last year. There was not much cricket in the calendar, domestic or international. Also, the World Cup defeat was stuck in my mind,” she told Hindustan Times.

The Haryana Cricket Association (HCA) looked after her well, and appointed a physiologist and a nutritionist to address any fitness concerns. “I was working on my mental and physical well-being, apart from rigorous training in the nets. Counselling sessions helped get over the World Cup loss,” said Verma, who was supposed to appear for her Class X exams in May.

The increased professionalism in her preparations meant that she had to cut down on fast food and move on from binge watching cartoons. “I miss my pizza and Doraemon. Now my diet includes more vegetables. I did not know much about these things before. But when you play at the international level, you learn a lot from your seniors and the fitness trainers constantly work on your bodies,” she said.

After India’s 4-1 series loss in the ODIs against the Proteas, the teenager was recalled for the following T20 series, scoring an impressive 130 runs across three games.

It earned her a call-up to the England Test match thereafter, and the youngster has more than impressed on debut. With three days to go in the match, the visitors currently trail by more than 200 runs with five wickets in hand.

The team would be hoping for Verma to have another trick up her sleeve, especially if it has has to slate another comeback here.

Image credits: Twitter/BCCI Women, Shafali Verma