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Feature

Devika Vaidya has fought her fears, beaten them, and is now a step away from her World Cup dream

She has done everything she could - including investing in a cricket academy, for herself and for others - to make it at the highest level

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
11-Feb-2023
Devika Vaidya earned a recall for the T20Is against Australia at home in December  •  Getty Images

Devika Vaidya earned a recall for the T20Is against Australia at home in December  •  Getty Images

Devika Vaidya is 25, and has already seen three World Cups come and go without getting a chance to play a part.
In 2017, she had to miss out because of an injury. In 2018, she flew 40 hours to arrive in the Caribbean jet-lagged on the morning of the semi-final, only for India to be ousted a few hours later. In 2020, she hadn't played enough cricket, first because of malaria and then a shoulder injury, to merit selection.
When she finally got the call for the ongoing T20 World Cup, Vaidya's first thought was, "hopefully there's no bad news around the corner". Realisation that she was finally going to play in her first World Cup hit her only upon landing in Cape Town in late January.
"It's amazing to finally be able to dream of playing in one," she tells ESPNcricinfo. "It's a dream I had ever since 2003, when I used to imitate Brett Lee's bowling. I also used to stand in front of a mirror and imagine I was the Australia captain and do post-match interviews, with my father asking me questions."
How does it feel to now answer real questions, in a real interview? "Oh, amazing," she replies. "Maybe that's why they say, 'chase your dreams, they do come true'. I'm experiencing it now. There's no bigger dream than being able to play in a World Cup. Winning it will be something else."
This second coming has taken a while. Prior to earning a recall for the T20Is against Australia at home late last year, Vaidya, a batting allrounder, had featured in just one T20I, way back in 2014 as a 17-year-old. But consistent performances in domestic cricket, mostly for Maharashtra, have kept her in the fray.
"I'm now working on improving my power game. You need that in T20 cricket. I'm a touch player, but you also need to keep adding more strings to your bow. I have done a lot of fitness work to complement my skill work. Hopefully that will show"
Between then and now, she has seen both success and failure on the cricket field, coped with the loss of her mother, has contemplated moving away from the game, invested in a business - a cricket academy in Pune's Sahakar Nagar - and has now overcome form and fitness concerns to make a comeback.
"After I lost my mother in 2019, cricket had become a chore," she remembers. "It got to a point where I didn't derive joy out of it. Mentally, it was weighing me down. It was then that I decided to confront my situation, face my fears.
"I spoke to a psychologist, underwent therapy. It took me a long time to come out of my shell. I wasn't the same person that I was earlier. Speaking out, having an outlet to express myself has helped my mindset considerably. I am a lot better off for it now."
As she charted her journey back after the Covid-19 hiatus, Vaidya started to think about playing at the highest level again. "I wanted to get something out of every practice session," she says. "I decided, if I didn't have access to other facilities, maybe it's time to invest in my own. That's how my friend [Tejal Hasabnis, Maharashtra women's player] and I started Leo Cricket Club.
"I thought I should be in a position to train and play as per my requirement. While that was the initial idea, it also gave me an opportunity to explore the business side of things. We brought in a partner, leased a ground, invested in a bowling machine, built a turf pitch and began on a small scale.
"There's no bigger joy than when a parent comes up and tells you 'my daughter learnt to play a cover drive'. It's given me confidence too"
On running her own cricket academy
"We charged a fee from our trainees, but obviously in return we ensured they grew as players. More importantly, for young girls it was an avenue to begin their cricket journey, something I didn't have when I started since girls playing cricket wasn't a thing.
"So apart from helping my cricket, I've also learnt the art of people management, managing finances, running a ship. Even when I'm on tours, I'm on calls with our trainees. There's no bigger joy than when a parent comes up and tells you 'my daughter learnt to play a cover drive' or 'my son did this'. It's given me confidence too."
Vaidya thinks about cricket. She analyses her strengths and has worked considerably on improving on her weaknesses.
"Like I'm now working on my improving my power game," she says. "You need that in T20 cricket. I'm a touch player, but you also need to keep adding more strings to your bow. I have done a lot of fitness work to complement my skill work. Hopefully that will show."
Recently, Vaidya sought out Alana King during Australia's tour of India. She spent time discussing legspin, the importance of varying pace and angles. As things stand, Vaidya is the only legspinner in India's World Cup squad. It's an art she began taking seriously after watching videos of Shane Warne.
"I am a rhythm bowler," she says. "I'm working on some variations. But I have understood this much: you can't compromise on your stock ball in trying to add variations. That's what Alana King told me as well. I discussed with her about her mindset, and how she assesses conditions, varies speed, lines up batters.
"She spoke to me on bowling on different pitches, how to get extra bounce, the importance of making use of top spin. As a bowler, I have all the variations, but I also have to focus on my stock ball. That has to be your best ball. You can vary the flight or speed through the air, but your stock ball has to remain the same. You can't be predictable, you will be found out. We discussed so many aspects. Imagine doing this daily at the WPL, it's exciting to just think of it."
It's also exciting to think back to 2012, when Vaidya got to meet Anil Kumble while on a trip to Bengaluru, a meeting facilitated by a family friend.
"That's among the most memorable interactions I've had," she says. "It was so nice of him to chat with someone who wasn't even a state regular. I showed him videos of my bowling. He suggested a few technical aspects, like what I could change in my bowling and how with strength many of those aspects will get covered. The one thing he said is, 'bowling smarts is something no one can teach you - it should come on your own'."
Has she had a chance to meet Kumble since?
"No, but hopefully soon."
Bowling Meg Lanning in a World Cup game wouldn't be a bad way of attracting his attention, right?
"Oh that will be a dream," she says. "Just like winning a World Cup is a dream."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo