She said “No” to marriage when she was just 16, promising her parents that one day she will live her dream of playing for India, provided they give her some more time. Hailing from a humble background, she realized her dream in 2015 when she made her India debut. Her journey has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride. Picked up in 2015, then dropped in 2016, and again making a comeback in 2019, she has shown that she is a great fighter.
We are talking about Kalpana Reddy, who graced the Female Cricket feature Cricket with Queens, before the outbreak of COVID-19. During the episode, Female Cricket’s Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the wicket-keeper bat from Andhra Pradesh.
Excerpts from the interview
1. Tell us about your early days in cricket.
Prior to taking up cricket, I was into athletics and kabaddi. It was in the seventh standard when I played cricket for the first time. The year was 2009. It so happened that my school sports teacher asked me whether I would be interested in playing cricket since she knew that I was actively involved in school sports. Before that, I had never heard of girls’ cricket. I agreed. My parents were then called to the school to sign some documents pertaining to allowing me to play cricket.
2. How did your domestic journey blossom?
In my very first year of cricket, I was selected to play for Andhra Pradesh U-16. I had some good performances in the district tournaments which helped me to climb up the ladder of the state cricket team. Hailing from a modest financial background, I was supported and encouraged financially by my state association. Initially, I was a medium pace bowler, but then my first coach Ishwar sir said to me that my height was not favorable to become a good fast bowler. He encouraged me to become a wicket-keeper, considering the fact that I was good at running and catching. Srinivas Reddy sir, who was my U-16 coach, also, had the same opinion. After playing for the U-16 state team, I was selected in the south zone, then U-19 state team, senior T20 team, and finally for the Challenger Trophy.
3. When you were busy playing cricket, back home your family wanted you to get married. Tell us about that.
It was 2012 when the talks of my marriage surfaced. I was just 16 then. My parents and relatives wanted me to get married. I had no clue about that and I was not prepared as well. Probably what triggered the marriage thing was the injury caused to one of my cousins who played kabaddi.
My parents, who were influenced by society, felt that even I could get injured playing cricket and if that happens, getting me married would be difficult. When my parents asked me about marriage, I was brave enough to say “No”.
I told them that I want to play some more cricket. My coach then, Srinivas Reddy sir, came home and spoke to my parents assuring them that I had a good cricket career ahead of me. MSK Prasad sir also played an instrumental role in convincing my parents to let me play.
4. So you were back to playing cricket and in 2015 you proved yourself when you were picked up to play for India. How was that feeling?
It was always my dream to play for India. In 2015, when I got the India call, I was extremely happy. The seeds of hard work that I had sowed finally bore fruits. I was in Bangalore when I got this news. I was there as a part of the India probables. As soon as I got the news of my India selection, I called my parents first, and then I called my coaches. Everybody was very happy for me. I made my debut against New Zealand in Bangalore. I vividly remember that all my teammates from the Andhra team, as well as MSK Prasad sir, came to Bangalore to watch me play for India. It was a special moment for me.
5. Who has been your inspiration?
I have always looked up to Mithali Raj, of course. Apart from her, I seek inspiration from Sabbhineni Meghana. She has been a guiding force in my journey. She has taught me many things on the field as well as off the field. We have been together for over a decade now and it feels good to have her by my side.
6. After featuring in seven ODIs for India, you were dropped. You made your comeback nearly after three years in 2019. How did you manage that?
Making a comeback is always difficult. I knew I had to work really hard if I have to play for India again. During that time, I concentrated more on my batting. Wicket-keeping was something that came naturally to me but for batting, I had to put that extra effort. Riding on some good domestic performances for Railways, I was picked up in the India squad for the England series. Krishna Rao sir helped me a lot to improve my batting. I had some match-winning performances to my name which helped me to make a comeback. Though I didn’t get a chance to be in the playing XI, I was happy to be back in the Indian dressing room. After that series, I was dropped again, and currently, I am again back to playing domestic cricket. I am confident that I will represent India again soon.
7. What are your plans for the future?
I want to play for India at least by the 2021 season. Though I would want to get picked as a wicket-keeper, I want to be recognized as a good batter.
8. What is your message to the young and budding women cricketers?
Work hard and believe in yourself. It is important to have patience and never be bogged down if things don’t go your way. Also, believe in your coaches because they know exactly what you are capable of. And last but not the least, always enjoy the game.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.