Devika Vaidya. © Devika Vaidya

Many in today’s world are fascinated by actors in the film industry and then there are a few who are fascinated by the cricketers. Out of those few, only some try to replicate their role models and start working towards a dream.

Just like any other girl in the country today, who would be a fan of Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni, a young girl from Pune (age 6) was fascinated by the fast-paced bowling of Brett Lee and the English-speaking skills of Steve Waugh during the 2003 World Cup. Her fascination didn’t stop there, as after the World Cup she asked her parents to let her play Cricket.

Coming from a background of sports, the Vaidya family allowed her to pursue her passion, and she started going to the ground, only to find out that cricket for girls wasn’t allowed there. It didn’t stop her though, as she tied her hair, adjusted it inside her cap, dressed up as a boy and started playing cricket (a Dil Bole Hadippa moment). She is none other than the Indian Team all-rounder Devika Vaidya!

Eight-year old Devika Vaidya practicing at the Deccan Gymkhana, Pune.

Eight-year-old Devika Vaidya practicing at the Deccan Gymkhana, Pune. © Devika Vaidya

 

Her struggle might not have been financial, and she had the complete support of her parents, but for a girl to pursue cricket as a career in a city where education is given prime importance, and the lack of facilities including practice at the ground made it tough for Devika. She performed just shadow practice for a year, as the youngster wasn’t allowed to train with the boys. But her constant grit and determination, and practice for years led her to fight all odds and break out in the Maharashtra Under-19 team at the young age of 12 and soon into the senior side. In 2013, she was among the first batch of players for the Under 19 camps along with Deepti Sharma and Smriti Mandhana at Guntur. In 2014, at the age of 17, Vaidya made her International debut.

For someone who’s consistent with the bat, it gives the captain the options of putting her anywhere, from the opening slot to the finishers position, and even some fine overs of leg-spin. Devika has been a constant part of the Indian team until the Quadrangular series last year where, unfortunately, she damaged her shoulder, which ruled her out of the World Cup. But there was no holding back, as she rehabbed at the NCA in Bangalore, and got herself into the India A side and scored heavily for the U-23 side along with taking wickets to get her back in the national side.

 

Yash Lahoti had a chat with Devika Vaidya post her selection in the Indian side, in the last week of March. Here are some excerpts:

 

How did you get that patience at such a young age? (Referring to the shadow practice)

I didn’t understand much cricket back then. I didn’t even think that I was going to take the sport seriously. Wasn’t thinking much because I was busy with my school and Taekwondo, so I just used to play. I liked going on the ground.

 

The Steve Waugh factor, are you still fascinated by the English, the way foreigners speak?

Yeah, definitely. I don’t know, that World cup also I was very fascinated with Brett Lee, Steve Waugh and all those guys. They were amazing.

 

You started as a pacer and later changed to leg-spin as you were told by your coach.

Yes, that was 4-5 years after I started playing cricket when I was 11-12 years old. My height and physique were not meant for pace bowling. So, that’s why my coach told me that you are chucking, so start leg-spin because in leg-spin it’s hard to chuck. Off-spin also it’s easy to chuck.

Devika Vaidya bowling against the Momentum Proteas side.

Devika Vaidya bowling against the Momentum Proteas side. © Devika Vaidya

 

Your career started quite early, 12 you are in the U-19 team, 13 you are in the senior Maharashtra team and you lead the team right now. So, at that age did you even understand how big a stage you are going to play at?

No, I didn’t think much at that time. My coach used to set me a few targets for every tournament (be it a scoring a fifty or a bowling a maiden). I had to manage with the team coach too as there were different roles assigned to me (being an all-rounder).

 

Who do you finally refer to? The team coach or your own coach?

If it’s with the technique, I connect with my coach since he has seen me evolve as a player and knows me the best. But when it comes to a team thing like where I need to bowl or bat, I talk to the team coach.

 

How nervous were you while making your debut against the Windies at the age of 17 and all of a sudden, a huge responsibility because you were actually representing the country that time?

I wasn’t nervous at all. I went in at a time where I had to just support Veda (Krishnamurthy) who was playing well. Actually, I liked the pace of the bowlers, since I had played with the boys in my childhood and it was coming quite well.

 

How was it batting with Veda on your ODI debut?

It was cool. The best part about her is that she doesn’t advise. I cannot play if someone advises repeatedly. Of course, the coach and the captain give the team plans. But not on the field, that affects. And that is something true in my regular life too. I don’t like someone repeatedly advising me. If it comes from within, then that’s fine.

 

How much do you regret missing out on the World Cup? 

Not much. I knew I wasn’t 100% fit because of the shoulder injury. And to win the World Cup, you need to be fit. And it’s not like I’m 30 years old and won’t get a chance again. Didn’t regret it much.

 

So, the highlight of your cricket career.

Every day I go on the cricket field is a highlight for me.

 

How has Anil Kumble’s advice changed you as a bowler?

He has given me a lot of useful tips. The main thing he said was that you must keep the batsman guessing. That is how you’ll take wickets with a lot of variations. Variation should not only be like a leg spin or googly, it can vary from the line and length and the place which you can bowl or round the wickets, we can vary in the box also.

 

Usually, people have one coach, but you had three. Tell us more about them.

My first coach (Pawan Kulkarni) allowed me to play with the boys because it was not allowed, and like unknowingly I had got my basics strong because I was not allowed to go in the nets. So, that’s how he encouraged me. He told me that you are not allowed to play but you can at least play over there like you can do shadow practice and it will help you later. That was the role of my first coach.

Then I changed my ground where the boys used to play with tennis balls. This hampered my technique. I developed the fear of hitting the ball. I started dodging when the ball used to come to the leg-side.

(Enter Devika’s second coach, Atul Gaikwad) He taught me everything from the very beginning after I lost my technique. He taught me various drills. The best among those was the one with the bowling machine (which had four steps that went around for two years, explains Devika showcasing the efforts visually). He also made me stand on a cement wicket and threw wet tennis balls. The fielding sessions used to go on for one and a half hours daily. This had become a daily routine for me for close to 2-3 years. I used to practice this daily until I became perfect.

And the third coach (Niranjan Godbole) is someone who used to ask me to evaluate myself. Whenever I fail to do so and I need help from his end, he will suggest me to do certain changes.

(We suggest our viewers not to try these practice drills without proper coaching. Use of protective gears is recommended.)

 

So, we have seen that you are a fitness freak with your videos on Facebook. What’s your diet and training schedule?

My whole day used to go into training and practicing since grade 9. The trainer (that time) used to give me mental training which I find is helping me today. My current trainer helps me a lot with functional training. He says that for playing cricket, you don’t need to pick up a lot of weights, those are required only for batting or bowling. More of ropes, tyres and shuttle training is required. Running for long distance is okay for building up stamina during offseason, but during the season it is more of a power training. Continuous short sprints are needed because you have to run between the wickets after every 10 seconds.

I don’t like cold-drinks, burgers, bhel, panipuri. No junk foods. I eat ice cream occasionally. I like French fries but that again comes rarely. My favourite dishes are biryani and dosa. Every Sunday when I am home, I have fish cooked by my grandmother which I don’t miss even if that means sessions of extra training.

 

So, let me take you a year back, where you were playing the qualifiers and now you are going to play in Nagpur. Like there will be the fans in the stands. So, what will be the difference for you?

The crowd is fun, like when there is a crowd they give us encouragement to play and it is a lot of fun when they cheer.

 

Who’s been your inspiration?

There are many cricketers from Brett Lee to Steve Waugh, Mike Hussey, Shane Warne, Sachin Tendulkar. I like the Blackcaps as a team. McCullum as a power hitter has been phenomenal and then AB De Villiers, he can do anything. But my main inspiration has been my coach. He taught me everything from cricket to eating food in public. He has taught me how to behave in front of others when I get selected in the Indian team.

 

What is the support from your parents?

They are very open-minded and have supported me to the core. They have always cared about me, they have always considered what I think rather than what people think. There were times when I used to be lazy and be in bed (during the continuous drills in the afternoon) and my mom used to take me out of bed and rush me to the ground. She has been a guiding support. My dad is a merchant navy officer, so whenever he is home, he tries to accompany me to all my cricketing destinations.

 

You impersonated as a guy and now you have played with the boys. How much has that helped you playing with the boys?

Of course, it helps me now when I am playing international cricket. Because the agility and quickness of International players match that of the boys’.

 

Your thoughts about the Women’s IPL? 

Many domestic players will get some much-needed exposure. Like how the international games are, the players who are playing domestic cricket and don’t get selected, they will get a fair idea what it is, in an international game. Plus, T20 is always fun.

 

How’s Devika Vaidya off the field?

I cannot stay at a place for a long time. I love taking photographs. You will find me in the hills in Pune if it’s an offseason. I like playing drums. Had done a few classes during my injury period last season. I just started singing also and I’m loving it. I don’t like to waste my time. Twice a week a hangout with friends is good but I cannot waste my time every day. I like a fixed routine. That increases my productivity.

(You will find an earphone in an ear of Devika if it is non-cricket time.)

 



You are a black belt in Taekwondo. 

I may not act but I am very hyper. Whenever I used to play Taekwondo matches, I used to kick the face of the opponent before the signal from the referee. I am planning to start it again.

 

Any superstitions you follow before a match?

I put my left pad first and I am an OCD totally. Even in normal life, if I have to switch off my bedroom light, I put on one light and I close two switches at one take compulsory. Everything has to be in odd numbers, I don’t like doing things in multiples of even. I never count but it happens.

 

What are your goals?

I don’t set any goals. I take one match at a time. But when it comes to photography, I wish to go for Nat Geo tours because I love travelling.

 

So, I have learned that you have sailed nine times with your dad.

Yes, it was amazing. I have visited my places. That time it was only Taekwondo. Cricket, I missed totally for 2 years. I used to tell my coach that I’ll return and then used to return in June when the schools were about to start. But it was fun.

 

You can be an excellent coach after retirement. 

That’s what my coach says. But I guess I have goals outside cricket too, so I may plan for photography as a profession probably. But mentoring is something I would love to do.

 

A piece of advice for the youngsters?

For the youngsters, do what you like and for the parents, support them if they are not wasting time and are serious. Support in whatever the child wants to achieve.

 

Rapid Fire:

Favourite actor: Ranbir Kapoor

Favourite singer: Arijit Singh

Best Friend in the cricketing circle: Tejal Hasabnis (Maharashtra player)

Yourself in one word: Unpredictable

 

Which cricketer comes to your mind hearing these words:

Aggressive: Virat Kohli

Cool as a cucumber: MS Dhoni

Introvert: Mithali Raj (A very nice person, very approachable but someone who would like to stay in her own comfort zone)

Foodie: Myself (Remembering all the Dosas and Biryanis she has had)

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