Around this time last year, Devika Vaidya was uncertain about her future in international women’s cricket. The all-rounder from Pune last played a Twenty 20 International (T20I) in 2014 and has been out of the Indian ODI team since 2018.
The last few years were challenging for her for various reasons - she lost her mother, Maushami, in 2019 to cardiac arrest and with the COVID-19 pandemic halting all cricketing activities, Devika even thought of quitting the game.
She lost her focus on the sport and often felt demotivated. But Devika’s grandparents and father convinced her to give it another shot. “I was in a practice session when it happened, and for the next one year, I was in a state of shock. Playing had become an escape for me because I did not feel like going home, and especially during COVID, it was difficult for me, but I also had to support my family because it was a loss for them as well,” Devika said on Saturday.
After the country went into a lockdown due to COVID, it hit Devika that she had lost someone, who was closest to her. “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,” she said.
“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.”
The leg-spinner, who is also an effective batter, took six wickets in the inter-state T20 tournament while playing for Maharashtra. She also accumulated 130 runs in five innings at an average of 32. She followed it up with consistent performances for West Zone in the inter-zonal tournament. “I realised there is a world apart from my mom,” she said. “It took time but I am fine now.”
But even then, Devika did not imagine that she would return to the Indian team. But to her pleasant surprise, the national selection committee named her to the T20I squad for the home series against Australia. Over the last ten days, the 25-year-old has proved her mettle, putting up all-round shows against a quality attack. He scored 69 runs in four innings and scalped three wickets. In the fourth T20I, she hit 32 off 26 while sharing a crucial partnership with Harmanpreet Kaur that helped India inch closer to the target before going down by seven runs.
“When I went in to bat, it was pretty easy for me to show some confidence and rotate the strike, and that was needed at that time. Harman also needed someone at the other end so that she could capitalise on the opportunities, and it was good batting with her, especially with the crowd around,” Devika said after the match.
As she cemented her comeback with solid performances, Devika is now enjoying the new challenge entrusted to her by the team management. “Now, whenever I bat is totally dependent on the situation on when we are batting and what phase of the innings it is. That is the challenge and I am really enjoying my role.”
Looking back at the days bygone, Devika stressed that with recurring injuries, things got tough for her. “It was all good until 2017, but I had to miss a lot of series due to injuries and illness, which resulted in a lack of confidence that I could really make a comeback at play at the top level,” she said.
“It is always a dream to come back, play for the country and win a World Cup, and it always kept me going. My friends and family have supported me throughout the tough situations, especially during COVID, when I just lost my mom a year back.”
During those difficult times, Devika would often speak to her childhood friend Smriti Mandhana, who made sure she does give up on cricket. “I used to speak to Smriti during tough situations, and we know each other since childhood, and it is our dream to play a World Cup together and win it for India. It was all about the correct mindset and correct atmosphere where if I get in that zone, I will be fine,” she added.
In those times, Devika always dreamed of making a comeback for India and guide the team to a couple of World Cup titles. “That dream actually kept me going,” Devika said. “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…”
Talking about the Indian bowling attack which has been rather sloppy in the series against Australia, conceding above 170 runs in all four games, Devika said the team management is working on a few plans, keeping next year’s T20 World Cup in mind. “Playing against a country like Australia, we need to learn and adapt quickly. I know my roles, so it is getting easier for me,” she said. “There are a couple of game plans that we are working on, not just for this series but also for the World Cup. Going forward, we are working on reading the batters quickly, and we have to be one step ahead with the ball.”
As Devika is back in the mix, she is keen to hold on to her position - with her rich experience and consistent performances.