Vellaswamy R Vanitha, also known as Vanitha VR plays for Indian Women’s National Team as Opening Batsman. She made her International ODI Debut against Sri Lanka Women at Visakhapatnam, Jan 23, 2014. She made the debut at the age of 23. One of her well known knocks came against New Zealand Women in 2015 in a T20 Match which remains her highest score in T20I. She has also led India Team A against New Zealand for a warm match in ODI series that was held in India on June 26th 2015. Hailing from Karnataka she was introduced to gully cricket in her locality. At this point she had no clue that she would take up cricket as a career. Defying all odds, she made her game better and better and was able to make it to the National side. Female Cricket is proud of this young talent. Indian team needs a batsman who can give good starts and contribute to the team immensely. In an Exclusive interview with Female Cricket, Vanitha talks about her journey, her initial cricket days, her best moments and other interesting stories she encountered as a Female Cricketer.
What drove you to cricket?
I remember, I was 11 years old. My dad took me out and I didn’t know he was taking me to a Cricket Academy, Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC). Back then, I used to play gully cricket a lot and that is where I developed my interest for the game. Irfan Sait was the coach when I joined KIOC. 5-6 Months after I joined, I picked up the game quite well and was ready to play the state matches. And thankfully I was picked up for the state games. It went on pretty well. I cannot forget that tour. My team qualified for the quarterfinals. This was way back in 2002-2003.
The very next year, I was fit to play for the Under-19. But I was on bench in the initial days and had to wait for my turn.
Did any of your siblings play cricket?
No. None of them played but they encouraged me a lot. My brother used to teach me cricket. My father was the one who taught me how to hold a bat. He himself was a great admirer of street cricket. Gully Cricket has brought a lot of interest towards cricket in my family.
Walk us through your initial cricket days!
After few months, I was able and got to play Under-16 tournament. Considering my performances, I was picked up for the state level matches. My under-16 and Under-19 has been very crucial and has seen a dominating side of me. It has prepared me a lot.
How did you cope up with your studies?
My results dropped down and parents were very concerned about my academics because I was a bright student. I started bunking classes. I would eventually end up on the ground and would be very tired to get back to school the other day. My parents wanted me to stop playing. My coach convinced my mom dad and requested them to let me play. Since last 2 years I am playing internationals and therefore I couldn’t fulfill my college commitments. To be honest, in the last 2 years I have not attended any of the college lectures. But the first 4 years I was regular and made a lot of friends in my law college.
So, any further higher study plans?
You never know how my mind works. I may, I may not.
You made your national debut in Jan 2014 against Sri Lanka. How has things changed after that?
I have so far played 14 T20Is and 6 ODI Matches. I was dropped right after my Sri Lanka series. I was injured and my recovery took longer time than expected. I was not considered fit for the selection in upcoming series. I am naturally not an athlete body and therefore I spend a lot of time in gym. I have to work a lot on my athleticism. It’s not natural to me. That’s simply because I have defect in my athleticism and I am working with a professional trainer these days. Initially I was exposed to a lot of strength training and now I am being exposed to power training. This is one such area I want to keep working and keep excelling.
When I’m back to my personal practice my coaches Irfan Sait , Naz Bhai spend a lot of time in nets with me and Dilip kumar spends a lot of time on my mental aspect and technical inputs.
So what was your reaction when you got to know about your national selection?
Well, I had a very good challenger series back then and I was very confident of getting selected, but honestly never thought this would come so early. My coaches believed a lot than me. I had the right set of people around me. I never felt so professional in my previous cricket matches. Last 2-3 years have been very crucial. There has been a lot of transformation in my career, professionally.
What is the next realistic goal or target that you have set for yourself?
Honestly speaking, I have always believed in team goals and team contributions. If my team wants me to go down at number. 10 and bat, I would take up that opportunity. I would love to play a 50 over world cup now. The last few matches that I have played were not that good but the previous matches including the first world cup game got the best out of me. I want to get better and learn with each game. I don’t set individual targets but rather aim to get better and better with each game. Stay hungry and win matches are the mantra I follow.
But 4-5 years back, I used to set a lot of targets. There is a time when you drop down as a player, your confidence gets shattered. Therefore I concentrate on becoming better player than what I was yesterday and this has positively impacted my game. I started realizing the game better and my practice sessions became more systematic. As an individual, I have believed in team performances. That’s what keeps me going.
Recently the news broke out about Indian Women players being allowed to participate in foreign leagues. What is your say to this exciting initiative?
BCCI in itself is a brand today. They allowing us to play other leagues, other important and foreign league is a big boost for us. As a player, we would love to rub shoulders with players and learn how they go about matches, how they adapt to situations. We would love to watch them because every cricketer has got her own style and professionalism. And, I am a kind of cricketer who enjoys learning and grasping things quickly. I would love to interact with players because that will take me closure to my objective of getting better and better by every game.
I don’t mind interacting with players throughout the game. I ask so many questions. People sometimes get me wrong, arrogant they call it; I have realized that the more I ask right questions, not only I am getting my answers, but I am also gaining confidence in the same.
I feel, the more interactive you are, the more you learn about yourself.
Women’s cricket has surely seen a rise in past 2-3 years. How do you see this and what has boosted the cause?
So if I talk about Karnataka, there weren’t much cricket opportunities before and the players who wanted to further continue their game had to look up to MNC’s to cover the costs and earn a living. Due to the lack in opportunities, lot of cricket enthusiasts had to quit.
We thought of a solution. It was a tough job and we took it. The idea was to groom a lot of young youngsters and we have actually succeeded in doing so. The senior players and coaches have taken a lot of efforts in the initiative. Now, cricket in Karnataka is much better than before.
How has things changed post T20 World Cup 2016?
After the World Cup, which was televised, it has created a lot of buzz and I get a lot of personal messages on Social Media that we want to play for India. Lot of men cricketers are turning to me for an advice. It’s so nice to see emerging cricketers who have the urge of playing, looking out for advice. These are some of the positives that has happened post World Cup. I know, a lot of them idolize Mithali Raj. Even we as juniors in the team look at some of these senior players for motivation. So I can understand if the nation also expects the same from them.
What is the cricket structure and the selection procedure in Karnataka?
As compared to other states, In Karnataka, the procedure is very simple. We have league matches. You can represent your city clubs and participate in these leagues. Through that, your performances are noted by the selectors. Few players are selected and a Zonal team is formed out of it. And Karnataka Cricket Association gives another opportunity as well, i.e an open selection or walk-in selection which is announced in the Press / Local newspaper and people can acquaint themselves with the information.
Kalpana, the state coach and Shantha and other selectors are taking a lot of efforts in bringing the girls together and organizing better cricket for us.
Could you please throw a light on some of the major positives that has happened in the Women’s cricket?
BCCI has really been very kind to us. It is taking another major step towards women’s cricket by introducing under-23. What happens is usually the player’s who are done with their Under-19 but are not up to the mark to get into the senior team, they are left with no other option with cricket as a career. Under-23 is a platform for them to keep playing cricket for next 2-3 years. I feel it’s another best initiative taken by the BCCI. They introduced Under-23 NCA camp this year. Players who are done with their Under-19, now has another hope to continue their cricket. A lot of players are also fit but probably there wasn’t much place in the team, so they had to quit. Also this opens up a lot of job opportunities. In the Karnataka, girls are way more focused now; the literacy rate has gone up. And job opportunities like these just add a freedom factor and makes girls more independent and they can continue what they love.
What are other opportunities that women’s cricket can offer today?
BCCI has now indicted that there are going to be women as staff members; another opportunity for people is to become a trainer. The former cricketers are still involved with the game which is kind of helping us to get better. Though the former players have jobs in their hand, I feel if you are a coach, you can surely educate few more girls. It’s a good thing to have them around.
Board is taking care of us just like their own daughters. We are very happy and feel really secure now. Now that we have contracts, we can concentrate on our game. Financially be independent and play as much as cricket you want.
Any idea about the upcoming matches / series?
I have heard that there is an International series coming up against West Indies. If we are through to this, we directly play in the World Cup. I am sure we are going to win it. The board is coming up with better plans. The board has also taken a decision that we will appoint a fielding coach. I am pretty sure we will get the best of things. The former players have constantly worked hard. Currently, the girls are based in their respective home towns. When the camps are announced, we all assemble. That’s how we go about it.