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'My time in the WBBL defines me and my game'

Krishnamurthy made two half-centuries in eight matches on the recent tour of South Africa Annesha Ghosh / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Veda Krishnamurthy's Instagram bio reads: "Cricketer. Movie freak." And though she hasn't watched any of the Rocky films, her career has followed the franchise's theme: "It ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."

"I was thinking about this earlier today," says the 25-year-old Krishnamurthy via video call from Delhi, where she was visiting her friends, Karnataka team-mate Akanksha Kohli, former India allrounder Reema Malhotra, and current India team-mate Mona Meshram.

"Autobiography mein masala daalne ke liye abhi time baaki hai [There's still time for me to add some spice to my autobiography], but, really, I have gone through a great deal [of ups and downs] in my career already."

Between her 45-ball 70 that knocked out New Zealand from the 2017 World Cup, and a series-winning tour of South Africa last month, where she struck two consecutive ODI half-centuries and an unbeaten 37 in a T20I, came a phase where cricket threw more punches at her than she could defend against.

The implosion in the World Cup final has been "a learning", Krishnamurthy says, and the ghost of the defeat was buried at Lord's that very evening. It was five months later, in Australia, that she faced a "much bigger challenge". Her maiden Women's Big Bash League stint, which came about thanks to a chat with former Australia allrounder Lisa Sthalekar on the sidelines of the early World Cup matches, veered from the script she had conceived in her head. Yet she considers herself "lucky" to have been able to experience it.

"If I am put in a difficult situation now, I'll be better off to handle it than ever before. And it's largely because of the changes the WBBL has brought in me.

"My time in Australia has taught me a lot. It now defines me and my game. Right now if I can think of myself as someone who knows what she is doing, a major part of it is because of the WBBL."

Her underwhelming WBBL campaign - 144 runs at an average of 18 and one wicket from five expensive overs of part-time legspin - was mirrored by her franchise Hobart Hurricanes' last-place finish. In her last game she made a 35-ball 40, her top score in the tournament, in Hurricanes' first win of the season.

"I had to keep telling myself, 'Okay, this game you will do well.' And then, when it would turn out to be another bad performance, it got really difficult for me mentally. After every defeat, it got even more difficult"

The difficulties she faced, she believes, will shape her approach during the "challenging" home season ahead - against Australia and England - as they did in South Africa.

"To be away for two months, play only on the weekends, and just train on the rest of the days, you have more than half the day to yourself. That gave me enough time to think about myself, my game, and what I want to do in the future. You cannot teach someone any lesson about life or their game unless they go through the experience. That way, WBBL was a turning point in my life.

"In South Africa, I walked in to bat in two different situations in the second and the third one-dayers. [I] had to go and score quickly in one instance [51 not out off 33 balls], and counter the early wickets in the next [56 off 64 balls]."

The WBBL experience included dealing with the pressure of repeated failures as an international star.

"Somewhere I feel I put a lot of pressure on myself - like, being an international, you have to play vital knocks, you have to win matches, get the team out of these losses. I had to keep telling myself, 'Okay, this game you will do well.' And then, when it would turn out to be another bad performance, it got really difficult for me mentally. After every defeat, it got even more difficult to have the same kind of energy and take the field.

"What I realised is, when you play a team sport, no matter how much you tell yourself, 'You need to perform and keep the team going', no matter how much you try at the individual level, you can only do that much because the entire team needs to click."

Krishnamurthy also found help and comfort in long video calls to her family and friends - especially the ones she could call even at three in the morning: Kohli, Malhotra and Meshram.

"I have never spoken to my friends or family before as much as I have done while being in Australia for WBBL," she says with a laugh. "I'm lucky to have them, for I know if I need them, say, in Bangalore, at any hour, they'll board the first flight to the city."

She also stayed in touch with Tushar Arothe, India's head coach; Biju George, the fielding coach; and a team-mate who knew exactly what she was going through - opener Smriti Mandhana, who had managed only 89 runs from 12 WBBL games for Brisbane Heat last season.

"I spoke to Smriti while she was playing the Challenger Trophy in India [in February]. I would pull her leg for not playing the Big Bash [this season], while she'd have a laugh at the expense of my struggling to find form."

Krishnamurthy also exudes gratitude towards her Hurricanes team-mates, who made her "feel at home from day one", hanging out and planning dinners together. "Hayley [Matthews] and I would travel together to the ground. I got along really well with her and Lauren [Winfield], Corinne Hall and Nicola Hancock. The five of us would sit together often and talk about what to do with the team. Those interactions helped me realise I was not being myself earlier.

"But that comfort of falling back on a familiar face," she adds as an afterthought, "to be able to share your concerns with them - that was missing. It was really difficult for me to fit myself in during the first half of the tournament, or understand what was happening around me. Probably that was one of the reasons why it took me a while to settle in the mix."

For someone who strives to be self-reliant, it is hard to overlook the succour Krishnamurthy derives out of merely talking about her family, or the confidence she finds in the emotional security they provide.

"My father keeps reminding me of one thing all the time: 'You play cricket because you want to. The day you feel like quitting, you're welcome to do so. You don't have to think about money, job - know your dad is always behind you.' So even if I don't succeed, or go through a period of struggle, I still have my family who are going to accept me for who I am. It gives me a cushion to be fearless, to express myself, and that reflects in my game."

While her father, who was in the army, remains a guiding force in her life, and especially was during the three years between 2012 and 2015 when she fell off the Indian selectors' radar, he encourages and supports her in taking her own life decisions, whether it be switching from karate to cricket as a 12-year-old; or staying back in Bangalore to further her cricketing aspirations instead of returning to her family in Kadur, a town about 200km west of the big city; or the decision to take a job with the Railways a year after making her India debut.

"I've realised one thing: cricket is important, it is my bread and butter, but it's not life. I've realised I need to give equal importance to other things in life as well"

He didn't quite like the swap from karate. "He wanted me to excel in an individual sport," Krishnamurthy says. "But he never opposed my decision to play cricket. 'It's your life; I want you to take the call,' he said. At times, when I go wrong [in my decision-making], he points that out, but he never stops me from doing my thing."

That includes not feeling the need to tweak her methods depending on the format, given her role in the side remains pretty much the same whether it's an ODI or a T20I.

"I'm sure no so-called big-hitter in the world would say it's easy to go in and smash from ball one, but the onus rests on me. There are days when you feel good about how the bat makes contact with the ball. On others, you struggle.

"If the ratio is six out of ten, I make sure I utilise those six chances and make 30 off 15 balls or 60 off 40. Scoring 40 off 70 is not the kind of cricket I want to play. That way, even if the tail scores 20 in the last five overs, I will be okay with it, because I will have by then compensated [for them] with my high scoring rate. That's the cushion the team expects me to provide because it suits my approach."

It's an approach she has formed after spending some time outside the Indian team, having first made her debut as a flamboyant big-hitting 18-year-old.

"I've realised one thing: cricket is important, it is my bread and butter, but it's not life. I'm playing for India now, but that won't be the case forever. When I made my debut, I would keep telling myself, 'I have to do well, no matter what.' But when I was dropped and made my comeback, that's when I realised I must put myself in a space where life beyond cricket is not taken for granted. I realised I need to give equal importance to other things in life as well."

Detachment from cricket, she says, has helped her become a better player.

"Right now, I'm in a space where I can ignore people or things at will. And trust me, I can be really good at it! I keep telling my friends you need to master the skill of ignoring if you have to live happily. I'm pretty clear about what I have in my life and what I want: these are the people and things that are important to me, and above that I don't care. My job is to go out there, give it my best and help the team win. But once I'm off it, there's more to life.

"Now I enjoy my cricket. I'm jovial, have fun on the field, I can be myself - I don't need to guard or mask myself. What I'm outside, I'm the same on the cricket field. When you like what you're doing, it automatically gets easier, as much for the human as for the cricketer in you. This wasn't the case in the initial phase of my career, but now this is what drives my cricket."

One particular game, after she returned to the side, helped her be comfortable in her own skin. It's also special because of the backing she has received since from the selectors, the former India coach Purnima Rau, senior team-mates Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj, and now the team's support staff, especially Arothe.

India's T20I series win in Australia was a landmark victory for the side and a highlight of Krishnamurthy's career. In the first match, in Adelaide, Australia had made 140 and India were 7 for 1 in the second over, having just lost Raj. Krishnamurthy, who usually bats five or lower, was asked to go in at one down.

"That game was the first match ever in my life when I was walking in at No. 3, in any format in international cricket. We were chasing 141, and Jhulu [Goswami] just came to me and said, 'Mooh todh dena unka [Break them.] I said, 'Theek hai, didi, karungi [Okay, I will]."

She hit 35 off 32 balls as India pulled off their highest chase in T20Is.

"It all began from there. These people gave me that cushion to understand what I can do for the team. That's why, since the time I've made my comeback, my career has just been somewhat shooting up. If you know you have those big people around who sort of have faith in you, they drive the best out of you. At times, it comes down to that thing: to have someone you can fall back on. At other times, you have back yourself."