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Feature

Tough situations no barrier to Devika Vaidya in her return to the big stage

She has dealt with personal loss, ill-timed injuries and being a long time out of the India squad, but is now back working on her cricketing dream - "to win a World Cup"

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
18-Dec-2022
Devika Vaidya revels in tough situations. Or such situations find Vaidya so much that working through them is second nature to her.
In the second T20I against Australia, Vaidya walked in when India needed 18 in 10 balls and the 47,000-plus crowd at the DY Patil Stadium was creating a deafening noise. Vaidya was on strike with India needing five off the last ball and hit a four to tie the match that they won in the Super Over.
In the fourth T20I at Brabourne Stadium on Saturday, she entered the scene with India wobbling to 49 for 3 after seven overs in a chase of 189. With the top three back in the dugout, captain Harmanpreet Kaur desperately needed someone to be with her as a home series loss against Australia loomed. Vaidya has encountered such situations on the domestic circuit too, but this was a different ballgame. It wouldn't have been a surprise had she gone into a shell and played out dot balls aplenty in the process.
Vaidya got busy, though, found the gaps, rotated the strike and played second fiddle to Harmanpreet. Vaidya's contribution in the 72-run partnership that came off 45 balls was 24 off 20. From a near-impossible situation, India were left needing 68 off 33 when their alliance ended.
Vaidya was still in the middle, braving it all. Tough situations keep finding her. Especially off the field, she has had to endure much to get to where she is now.

****

Life for Vaidya was good until about 2017. She had played a T20I aged 17. She had good returns with bat and ball in the World Cup Qualifiers in February 2017 and was in the selectors' plans for the 50-over World Cup that year. But a shoulder injury in May put paid to those plans. And just when she was getting back in action, she was affected by dengue. Then, she was set to be named the India A captain when Australia toured in 2018 but had to be replaced having contracted chikungunya.
The spate of injuries and illnesses made her doubt herself. Was she good enough? Did she really want to play? There was the dream of wanting to win World Cups. But could she play at the top level again?
"It was always a dream to come back, play for the country, and win a couple of World Cups. That dream actually kept me going," Vaidya said after the fourth T20I. "Whenever I used to think, 'nahi khelna hai abhi, bas ho gaya (enough is enough, I don't want to play anymore)' the thought that 'if I don't play now, how will I win a World Cup' used to haunt me and kept me going."
So she kept working hard and was called up to the Board President's XI to face England at home early in 2019. And then tragedy struck. Vaidya lost her mother and had to withdraw from the series. Her mother was Vaidya's biggest source of support, her confidante. She was in a shock.
"I couldn't realise what had happened because we were continuously playing," she recalled. "That was some kind of an escape… playing was an escape because I didn't want to go home. Something has happened, I don't know what has happened. I didn't want to know or get used to the fact that she is not there.
"The first year was me escaping reality."
Then, Covid-19 struck. It meant that Vaidya had to stop playing, face her situation and come to grips with it. It was not just about consoling herself but also about taking care of the family.
"After Covid started, it hit me that the person so close to me was not with me anymore," she said. "I then had to support my family also. It was a partnership there also - taking care of my grandparents, and them taking care of me. It was a long journey but then some things have to be accepted.
"My mom is always there - whether I am playing, not playing, if I am crying, laughing, winning matches. She is always there with me. Now that I have accepted that fact, it is very easy for me to deal with it."
All of it took a toll on her mental health. Vaidya is not one to discuss her issues and open up about personal matters with people, be it family or friends. But she had to learn to trust people other than her mother. Being in contact with her childhood friend, India vice-captain Smriti Mandhana, with whom she dreamt of winning a World Cup for India, also helped.
"I realised there is a world apart from my mom," she said. "It took time but I am fine now."

****

When Australia had scored at over eight-and-a-half runs an over, Vaidya returned figures of 2 for 22 in the third T20I. Even on Saturday, she bowled an economical spell of 3-0-22-0 when Australia put on 188. This, on the back of a good domestic season which resulted in her call-up to the T20I side after eight years.
In the Senior Women's T20 Trophy this season, Vaidya had scored 130 runs at a strike rate of 109.24 and picked up six wickets at an economy rate of 6.17 in Maharashtra's quarter-final finish. In the Senior Women's T20 Challenger Trophy, she had played a crucial hand of 41 not out off just 27 balls to help India B overhaul a target of 141 against India C, after walking in at 57 for 4. That boosted her confidence and showed that her team can rely on her.
And so, Vaidya had been there and done that. On Saturday, as Richa Ghosh walked in to do the hitting with the asking rate going up, Vaidya had to support her. She picked up a Megan Schutt slower one and pulled it to beat deep square leg. India needed 41 off three overs. But then Vaidya was stumped by stand-in wicketkeeper Beth Mooney off Ashleigh Gardner. She had scored 32 off 26 but, more importantly in the context of the game, faced just four dot balls through her innings - a dot-ball percentage of just over 15, which was bettered by only Ghosh's 10.53%.
Despite Ghosh's heroics at the end - 40* off 19 - India fell short by seven runs. The vital supporting act from Vaidya did not have a happy ending. But it is not always about picture-perfect endings, is it?

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo