The early overs used to be all about Smriti Mandhana but India’s star opener says she feels relieved of pressure thanks to the emergence of teenage prodigy Shafali Verma.
There’s been no hesitation from Verma in making a name for herself on the global stage, the 16-year-old having scored 68 runs across two games, including five sixes and seven fours, at an impressive strike rate of 212.
The teenager, who is making her ICC Women’s T20 World Cup debut in Australia, picked up the Player of the Match award for her 39 runs against Bangladesh, a match which Mandhana missed after picking up viral fever.
Once upon a time the absence of Mandhana for the opening overs would give India reason to worry, but not anymore according to the senior batter, with Verma showing she’s capable of filling her boots.
“Shafali has been a huge positive coming into the T20 side,” said Mandhana. “The way she’s going about her batting, it’s so easy to bat alongside her.
“I used to score a lot of our runs in the last two of three years, especially in the Powerplay, but now with Shafali coming in, she’s getting the runs in the way I do. It makes the team more balanced.
“She’s got a routine she likes to follow, and that’s the best thing about her. No-one has gone in and told her she has to change that.
“I used to have a major role in Powerplays, but Shafali is getting the quick runs in those first overs now too. She’s made a huge impact and the team has become more balanced thanks to her.
“I don’t think we’ll be going into the game thinking about a total, but we will continue playing the way that is working for all of our batters.”
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With the start she’s made in Australia, there’s no surprise Verma is also the talk of India’s next opponents New Zealand, who they face at Melbourne’s Junction Oval on Thursday.
The White Ferns won their opener against Sri Lanka after captain Sophie Devine’s record-breaking half-century, while for India, winning their third game in Melbourne could secure their progress to the semi-final stage.
But not if Lea Tahuhu has anything to say about it.
While all eyes will be on Verma at the middle, the experienced fast bowler won’t go easy on the youngster and still wants her bowling exploits to be the talk of the town.
“Personally, I love the thought of facing Verma,” said Tahuhu. “It makes me fire up a little bit more and I’m really looking forward to playing her.
“I actually played her in the T20 Challenge in India last year and I know she’s not going to take a step back.
“I’ve had a pretty good lead into this tournament playing in the Women’s Big Bash League over here and the Super Smash competition back home.
“I’m in a pretty happy place with my bowling at the moment and I have experience of the conditions having been in Melbourne for a few years with the Renegades.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced girls who have played here a lot. I’m sharing my knowledge, but Katey Martin has also played here a lot and Suzie [Bates] put a few balls over the fence here when she was playing for Adelaide.”
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