Shafali’s the man: Teen disguised herself as a boy to start her cricket career

Teenage cricketer and Sydney Sixers recruit Shafali Verma was just 14 when she cut off her hair for her dreams of playing for India.

In her hometown Rohtak, a city about 65km northwest of Delhi, Verma’s family discovered she had a natural cricketing ability at age 12 when her father Sanjeev – finally – gave her the bat after years of simply fielding for her older brother’s training sessions.

The only problem was, no academies in her town were willing to take on a female cricketer. So, Verma and her dad came up with an idea.

“I went to the boys, and they said we are not playing you. We’re not taking you because you’re a girl, and you’ll be hurt by the ball if it gets you,” Verma said.

“I came home angry and after that, I went to my father and said I want to cut my hair. So, I cut my hair and went back on another day and they didn’t recognise me.”

In an echo to the romantic comedy She’s the Man, a 2006 film in which a young woman cuts her hair to play on the men’s soccer team (itself loosely based on the Shakespeare play Twelfth Knight), Verma played for a year for her district association until the boys in her team realised she was a girl.

Shafali Verma, second from right, has an older brother who now plays at domestic level in India.

“They went to my father, and they were like ‘do you know your child has done this?’,” she laughed.

Things changed for Verma when her high school decided to develop a women’s team.

Shafali Verma was 14 when she cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy and join the district team. It worked.

From there, Verma became the youngest cricketer to play in a women’s Twenty20 international match for India at 15 before playing in the T20 World Cup at 16.

This year Verma, now 17, became the youngest Indian cricketer – male or female – to play all three international formats of cricket before joining the Sydney Sixers for her maiden WBBL season.

The Sixers have only played two games, but the teenager is already making her name known.

In just her second game in the WBBL on Sunday, Verma produced a player of the match performance with 57 from 50 deliveries in the Sixers’ successful run chase against the Hobart Hurricanes, saving the blushes of more experienced teammates Ash Gardner (3) and Alyssa Healy (3).

Verma said she came to the Sixers to learn and adjust her game, but there is one thing she won’t budge on; her hair.

Still rocking the boy cut, Verma said she has no plans to grow it back.

“I want to keep it this way as I’m used to it now with the helmet,” she said.

Verma said she owes most of her success to her dad and his passion for cricket and the matches he would take her to as a nine-year-old.

“My father, he loved cricket, but his family didn’t have much money for him to play,” Verma said.

Verma has already made her mark at the Sixers and has forged a close partnership at the top of the order with Healy.

Verma’s skill as an opener has seen Ellyse Perry moved down the order to number four for the first time in her Big Bash career.

“It’s a very good opportunity for me to play in the BBL and play with girls who are at the top of the Australia list with Healy, Perry and Gardner,” she said.

“It’s a good learning experience for me. I’m always talking with them about what they’re doing, what I am struggling with, and they always give me support.”

As for her older brother who she stole the bat off at age 12?

Verma said he is taunted by their dad for only making it as a domestic cricketer. The horror.

“[My father] says [to my brother] your sister is over there and what are you doing!” she joked.

Verma hopes her youngster sister, who is eight and already plays cricket, will soon follow in her footsteps.

Meanwhile, the WBBL has had a thunderous start to the season with Fox Cricket’s first five games of the season up on viewership 131 per cent year-on-year. Over 90,000 viewers tuned in for the Thunder and Strikers clash on Saturday to make it the most-watched stand-alone WBBL regular-season game of all time.

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