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Shafali Verma, the No. 1-ranked T20I batter in the world, said she took her non-selection in India's ODI squad for the recently concluded home series against South Africa in her stride, but at the same time felt driven to iron out any potential shortcoming in her batting that may have kept her out of the reckoning.
The youngest player to have represented India in T20Is, Verma, 17, opened up on her plans for the 50-over format, in which she is still uncapped, after her blistering 30-ball 60 in the third and final match of the T20I leg of South Africa's tour of India. Following up on her 22-ball 23 and 31-ball 47 in the first two matches, Verma made short work of a 113 chase on Tuesday as India romped to a nine-wicket victory and averted a 3-0 sweep in Lucknow.
"When I didn't get a call-up for the one-dayers, I thought there might still be some inadequacy that I need to address. But I didn't ask anybody - neither the captain nor the coach - about my non-selection," Verma said after the match when asked if she had spoken to any senior player or the head coach to identify the areas she could improve in to strengthen her case for an ODI call-up.
"I made up my mind I will work more on my fitness and make sure to play according to the balls whenever I get an opportunity in the format," she said. "When my name didn't come up for the one-dayers, I tried to keep my confidence up and motivated myself to play better so I can make it to the 50-over team as well. I wasn't much disappointed; I just made sure I focused on working harder."
Since making her international debut in the T20I series against South Africa at home in September 2019, Verma has emerged the frontline choice for Smriti Mandhana's opening partner. In her 22 innings in the format, she has made 617 runs at an average of 29.38, her strike of 149.31 the key to India's brisk starts.
In last year's T20 World Cup, she topped the run-chart for India, and was arguably the foremost reason for their run to the final given she found little support from other top-order batters. However, as India prepared to return to international cricket after a 364-day spell of almost complete inactivity, the absence of her name from the ODI squad for the South Africa series raised eyebrows.
Verma said when an ODI debut does come by, she would aim to make the most of the preparations she is putting in now.
"The focus would be on spending as much time on the wicket as possible and score as many runs as I can, " she said, "so I can create a good report of myself.
"No matter what position I get to play in, I will try to extend my innings for as long as possible and score well.
"Whenever I go to my hometown, [while training] I try to choose balls that I think I should hit and pay attention to rotating the strike by taking singles and doubles. For one-dayers, too, I think shot-selection based on the merit of the balls has been my focus."
In the opening over of India's chase on Tuesday, she cracked three fours and a six off Shabnim Ismail, the No. 2-ranked bowler in women's T20Is, and helped propel India to 71 for 0 in the powerplay. Her fifty came off just 26 balls, the fourth-fastest in the format by an Indian woman, and by the time she fell, in the 10th over, India, requiring just 17 runs, were poised to seal a comfortable victory.
"When I went in to bat, I wanted to make sure I bat well because this is the last match for me," she said. "There is some time before the next series, so I wanted to do my best and do well for the team and score well."
"Whenever we [she and Mandhana] go out to at together, we try to hit the loose balls well and convert them into boundaries and play as long as possible, so we can maximise our scoring opportunities," Verma said.
Sinalo Jafta, the South Africa wicketkeeper-batter, also heaped praise on Verma's attacking style of play.
"Firstly, you took the word out of my mind: fearless. T20 cricket is about expressing oneself and the way she expresses herself, I have to commend her. She is just 100% fearless. That's the one word."
Mandhana, too, commended Verma's performance as well as her bowlers'.
"Being the winning captain, I think it was a good show over all. Our bowlers did extremely well to restrict them to 112 in the first innings," Mandhana told host broadcaster Star Sports after the match. "And then Shafali just stole the show. She was brilliant. But I think this victory definitely goes to the bowlers."
Mandhana also said the series-deciding final-ball defeat on Sunday was a demotivating blow for the hosts to overcome but their head coach WV Raman enthused them to take the field on Tuesday with a professional approach.
"After losing the series in the second match it needs a lot of motivation to come out there for the third match," she said. "We all came as a group. Raman sir told us, 'Nevertheless, this is an international match and we have to go out there and win the match.' We are going to go back home with a positive mind and then we will be in a positive frame of mind whenever we play the next series, so this match in that context is really important for us."