The Shafali factor that could win India Women the T20 World Cup
Aaron Finch and David Warner put on an exhibition of opening the batting in T20s in the recently concluded series against South Africa. Quinton de Kock did the same in the second match of the series. Yet, eclipsing the three of them, in terms of strike rate, at another end of the planet, was 16-year old India Women's team opener, Shafali Verma.
The opener hasn't scored a half-century yet in India's T20 World Cup campaign so far, but has two Man of the Match awards. Even as her senior partner, Smriti Mandhana has failed, Shafali has made scores of 29 (15), 39 (17) and 46 (34). She has the highest strike rate in the tournament so far with her runs coming at a frenetic strike rate of 172.73.
Shafali's natural game is to attack and her carefree batting has been a delight to watch. Several commentators raised pertinent points about her game during the tournament. One primary suggestion was that while Shafali was a pure entertainer, she ought to try and convert her starts.
While their point carries weight, Shafali is in a league of her own and her importance to this Indian side goes beyond numbers. India women have a brittle middle-order, a fact so many teams are well aware of. To silence India, they need to force the middle-order to make the bulk of the runs.
This hasn't been happening thanks to Shafali's timely intervention at the top. The 16-year old has made blazing starts at the top, helping India to get off the blocks quite quickly.
When she was dismissed against Australia in the very first game of the World Cup, India had made 43 in 5.3 overs. Against Bangladesh, at the point she was dismissed, the women's team had 53 in 5.3 overs. Against New Zealand, she carried on further after helping put up 49 runs in the powerplay (contributing 25 off 15 balls then). When she was dismissed, India had 95 in 13.5 overs. They went on to add just 38 runs in 6.1 overs.
What Shafali's early onslaught does is allow India's middle-order to not overly attack but play their natural game. With Harmanpreet Kaur failing, this approach is extremely good as the momentum and platform has been laid early on.
Even if India do not get a final flourish, there's enough on the board for their bowlers to work the magic. This has worked in all three group games so far, and the young champ has been India's batter of the tournament. Her carefree approach could well determine if this side can go the distance and win the title.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / William West