The trials and tribulations of Arundhati Reddy, cricket tragic awaiting her moment in the sun after falling out of favour

A cricket tragic looking for a way back to the national team, Arundhati is on a quest to prove to the selectors that she is built to stand out.

Published : Apr 11, 2024 12:38 IST , PUNE - 8 MINS READ

Arundhati has impressed with both bat and ball in the ongoing Senior Multi-Day Trophy.
Arundhati has impressed with both bat and ball in the ongoing Senior Multi-Day Trophy. | Photo Credit: LAVANYA LAKSHMI NARAYANAN

Arundhati has impressed with both bat and ball in the ongoing Senior Multi-Day Trophy. | Photo Credit: LAVANYA LAKSHMI NARAYANAN

Arundhati Reddy is one of those hardy players who will put cricket before everything else. The medium pace-bowling all-rounder has known nothing but the game since her childhood, having been part of semi-professional and professional cricketing environments since the age of 12, when she broke into the Hyderabad set up.

Slowly but steadily, she built a reputation for herself in domestic cricket and made the right heads turn, breaking onto the international stage in 2018 while also landing a lucrative gig with the Railways, representing the cricketing giant in the domestic scene. She would go on to play World Cup finals, star in memorable games, be part of two-time finalists in the Women’s Premier League — Delhi Capitals — and much more.

However, for Biju George (former India Women fielding coach, currently with DC in the same capacity for both gender verticals), Arundhati will never stop being the young girl he first saw back in 2018.

“There was a Challengers tournament held in Alur at the B Ground and there was this girl wearing a bandana, coming and bowling with a clean, easy action and hitting sixes. I thought, wow, this is someone we should keep an eye on,” George told Sportstar. 

“After 2019, I wasn’t involved with the women’s cricket team but in my heart I hoped I would get an opportunity to coach the girls again. Then, when the WPL came along, I hoped Delhi Capitals would land a team and thankfully they did. I had the privilege of being at the auction table. We went for Aru and Shikha (Pandey) there. Aru has the perfect technique to be a good fast bowler and double up as an all-rounder. Think of what Kapil Dev was for the Indian men’s team,” George added.

Biju George and Arundhati.
Biju George and Arundhati. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Biju George and Arundhati. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

This duo has developed a bond akin to that of a father and daughter. He wears his affection for the pacer on his sleeve and that perhaps explains why he has been her confidante when life took her to difficult places.

After the struggle of making it to the Indian team, the next challenge was to keep her place. There were plenty of punctuation marks to her ambitions in cricket - COVID-19, a blossoming pace pool, the occasional favouritism that Indian cricket knows too well. After being a T20I mainstay, Arundhati eventually fell down the pecking order, with names like Meghana Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Pooja Vastrakar and now even up-and-comers like Titas Sadhu edging ahead.

It didn’t help that she was also not getting too many playing opportunities with Railways. With a heart loaded with doubt and the fear of slipping into what-ifs, she discussed a potential exit from the Railways fold with George last year. She eventually left, after a career comprising of 24 List A and 21 T20 fixtures for Railways and five 20-over games for Central Zone.

“I suggested she move to Kerala. I belong to a middle-class background myself and so I know how valuable finances are to this decision,” George recollected. He credits the WPL for helping Arundhati muster up strength and cut the umbilical cord.

“WPL gave her the security to move away from Railways. There’s some money there so she won’t starve. WPL gives these players a platform to be noticed and she then has this state team option (Kerala) that is making knockouts in the ecosystem. Kerala is a supportive space. The team trains in good grounds and players get good facilities and a lot of matches. When she came in, she was shocked at how well she was treated. Everyone is handled that way,” George claimed.

“The T20s were a bit of a dampener for her,” he remembered. “Catches were dropped off her bowling and so on. The one-day games are where she really opened up performance-wise.”

Arundhati had four wickets and 252 runs to her name in five innings for the side, averaging 126 with the bat. However, while Kerala made the knockouts in the T20 tournament, it couldn’t replicate the feat in the one-dayers. With her experience, a place in the South Zone squad for the Senior Multi-Day Trophy was also guaranteed and she had made that count too.

In two games, she has 174 runs from four innings and two wickets (so far) to her name. The 57 she scored in the first innings of the final came after two days spent needing an IV, after which she battled intense heat and hydration trouble for 122 balls.

All this after an encouraging outing in the WPL where she became one of captain Meg Lanning’s go-to sergeants on the field. From having bowled just nine overs last season and taking two wickets, she bowled 29.5 in 2024 and finished with eight scalps.

Under the DC canopy, Arundhati worked on her wrist position at the point of release to manage quicker speeds and more seam variations. Batting drills involved power-hitting sessions too. She was also a gun fielder and a reliable operator in any field position.

Arundhati became one of captain Meg Lanning’s go-to sergeants at DC.
Arundhati became one of captain Meg Lanning’s go-to sergeants at DC. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Arundhati became one of captain Meg Lanning’s go-to sergeants at DC. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

For George, the change wasn’t as much about statistics and stratagem as it was about having a safe space to bloom.

“Aru coming to Kerala has been a blessing both ways. The way the youngsters look up to her… There is a young talent in Kerala - Joshitha VJ. She is a real quick bowler. She speaks to me constantly about ‘Aru di, Aru told me this, Aru di told me that’.

“Arundhati is not someone who is super rich but she would spend money on these kids… to get them good equipment, sometimes for coaching. She does this even for girls who aren’t in the senior side. A player I won’t name was going for coaching at this particular place and she wasn’t someone with the kind of resources to do that and I got to know Aru is the one who is giving her the money to go there and get her stuff done. She has a very kind heart,” he revealed.

“She comes from a very tough background. She never had anything easy in life and had to fight for every inch of the life she has now,” George reiterated.

Arundhati has more often than not fuelled herself with having multiple points to prove throughout her career. She needed to prove to the naysayers who would try and dissuade her supportive mother from helping her find her feet in the game. She needs to prove to the selectors that she still has much to offer. But perhaps, more importantly, she needs to prove to herself that she isn’t like the others, that she is built to stand out.

That quest took her to Arjun Dev, the coach at NICE Academy in Bengaluru. It’s a nascent relationship and Arjun, who also coaches Shreyanka Patil, is not looking to tweak her game drastically, but only pushing her to take risks.

“One thing I have worked on is her efficacy on bowling to the leg-side,” he told Sportstar. “Leg-side fields, five fielders standing along positions on this half are not conventional and could even be scoffed at. I am okay if she gets hit for runs, but we’ve worked on trying to get more wickets with bowling on this side of the stumps. We’ve also tried to add a few kilometres to her speed. This will help us make her slower ball a little more efficient and just make those variations a bit snappier,” he explained.

Arundhati is a formidable force with the bat, but the positions she gets in international and franchise cricket is down the order.

“Finisher - this is the hardest role in batting. Openers have time to get a feel of things and figure out their pace - for good or bad. Finishers don’t. We’ve been doing a lot of work in getting those shots, scoring quickly and maximising the six to 10 balls we might have on hand. I am just working on making her feel more confident about the skills she already has,” he added.

Shreyanka Patil and Arundhati.
Shreyanka Patil and Arundhati. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Shreyanka Patil and Arundhati. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Arundhati rooms with Shreyanka when she’s at NICE and it is quite the pairing. The former is fun-loving and even mischievous at times, but isn’t as outgoing as Shreyanka or Jemimah Rodrigues. However, she enjoys the fun a younger, closer-to-her-age-bracket band of colleagues bring to the table in the national side.

“These two get along famously, but are always bickering. It’s quite the pairing. But at the base of it all, both these players are here to show the world that they are not part of the pack. They are made of something else. It’s one thing to have one student like that, to have two is quite the bonus. We’re trying to replicate the gains we’ve made with Shreyanka - her mindset and comfort with her own talents - with Arundhati,” Arjun said.

In an interview in 2020, Arundhati said that she wants to play cricket forever. She’s a cricket tragic looking for a rainbow at the end of the tunnel - a way back to the national team - and George believes the time is now.

“Aru should be walking into the Indian side. We are seeing India’s best seam-bowling all-rounder. She saves us 15 runs on the field, she is capable of holding one end down and hitting the wrong ones with the bat and is feisty with the ball. She never drops any catches and she has been showing how good she can be in all formats over the past 12 months. The painting is too big, you can’t not look at it,” he concluded.

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