India’s 15-year-old women’s cricket sensation Shafali Verma had to get her hair cut like a boy so that she could get into the local academy to train, her father told AFP.
Now India’s cricket establishment is relying on Verma, who made her Twenty20 debut for the national team against South Africa last month and will soon go on a tour of the West Indies.
The teenager has become known for her aggressive batting. But her father Sanjeev Verma told of the struggle to get her daughter accepted in games.
“I introduced her to cricket when she was eight or nine. I used to take her to play neighbourhood teams on Sundays,” he said.
“Most teams refused to play against her. They said that she could get hurt and that I would complain if that happened.
“Even when I insisted she was my daughter and I was okay, most didn’t agree,” said Verma, who makes jewellery in Rohtak near New Delhi.
That is when he decided to give her a “boy’s haircut” to trick opponents.
“At eight or nine, all kids look the same. After the haircut, most didn’t even notice she was a girl and she started playing regularly at weekends,” he said.
The father said he was never worried about seeing her play against male teams, believing it would improve her skills.
But when he tried to get professional training, he hit a new equality obstacle when academies refused to take Shefali.
“Most in town refused to take a girl. I eventually found one which took boys and girls. It was eight kilometres (five miles) from our house and she used to cycle there for training each day,” the proud parent added.
Father and daughter are “diehard fans” of Sachin Tendulkar, holder of many scoring records and a legend in Indian cricket.
“I have always been a Sachin fan and I made sure that I introduced her to his batting very early. We watched so many Sachin innings together,” he said.
With Shafali already in the national team, at least two other members of the Verma family hope to find cricket success.
Shafali’s 17-year-old brother, Sahil, also hopes to rise through the ranks.
“Even my youngest daughter Nancy, 6, has started playing cricket. Both of them are inspired by their sister. I just hope she plays for national team for a long time and is part of the first Indian women’s team to win the World Cup,” he said.