Born on July 19, 1990, Vellaswamy Ramu Vanitha is considered as the next big thing in Indian cricket. A vital cog in the shortest format of the game, she has managed to grab many eyeballs in her brief stint for the Indian team so far. As of now, she has donned the Indian colours in 16 T20I and 6 ODIs. Defying all odds to emerge stronger, Vanitha’s story is an anecdote to inspire many budding women cricketers. In an exclusive interview with CricFit correspondent Yash Kashikar, Vanitha speaks about the struggle during her initial cricket days, her ODI debut, the experience of sharing the dressing room with stalwarts like Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, her fitness regime and much more.
Q: Well, a girl stepping out in a helmet with a bat in her hand is still not a very popular sight in India. So, what exactly made you get into the gentleman’s game?
Vanitha: It’s because of my brother and my dad that I fell in love with this game. Every weekend they used to play gully cricket and that’s how I go into this game and also I always wanted to be around my brother when I was young. Even now I want to be with my brother and because of that just to hang out with these guys I thought of picking up this sport so that I could actually, tag along with them.
Q: How was Vanitha as a student? Did education take a back seat once you decided to pursue cricket professionally?
Vanitha: Actually, I was a very bright student in my school. Till 8th grade, I used to top but once I joined cricket I lost focus in my studies. I always wanted to play cricket and I always felt that cricket will keep me higher than studies. I always believed that cricket will give me what a person requires. So, I never looked back and was always ready to compromise in terms of my studies. Though I have still managed to get along and I have an exam which I need to give this year. Once that is done I can be a lawyer as well.
Q: Did you have your family support to get into the sport?
Vanitha: See, when I joined it was my dad who took me to the camp but over a period of time I lost focus. More so as a teenager, you tend to slip your way off and that is what happened with me. That is when my parents wanted me to quit playing. Academically I wasn’t doing great and even in terms of my game, I wasn’t reaching anywhere. So as any parent would do even they felt that I need to find a way out and thus they forced me to quit playing but then I had to literally convince them and that is when my coach Irfan Sait played a major role in convincing them for me to pursue cricket further.
Q: Every successful story has an unknown side of struggle and sacrifice. What kind of hardships did you have to face in your venture of pursuing cricket as a career?
Vanitha: Most of the personalities tend to quit playing when they are rejected but with me, it was the opposite. That was, in fact, my inspiration like every time they rejected me I always went back and worked harder and harder. I never compromised in terms of my practice or hard work that I put in. Now it has become more of a routine for me. I have to work for particular hours to have a peaceful sleep. I want to give my best every time I walk out on the field. My motto is to be better than what I was yesterday and that makes me work hard, Yash. I love to learn new things and believe in persistence and perseverance. So, whenever I am kept out of the playing XI there is a lot of deep talk and introspection that goes inside me so as to find out what went wrong.
Q: What role has your coach Irfan Sait played in making you a great cricketer today?
Vanitha: Today whatever I am it’s because of him and a few other coaches to name like Naseer Bhai, Dilip, my trainers Anand Date and Rajini. These guys have together played a major part for me because in every phase you come across people and these people have been in every phase of mine. They have been the constant ones to look around and rely upon. I owe a lot to these guys for always being there for me.
Q: You made your ODI debut against Sri-Lanka in 2014. Talk us through about the feeling of walking out on the field with that Indian jersey for the very first time?
Vanitha: I had goosebumps all over. It’s a moment as a child I have always dreamt of donning the India colours, the BCCI logo on your chest because you carry pride, you carry a lot of things. That is the moment which I’ll probably cherish till my last breath. Of course, I was very nervous in that game and I got out for zero. I had never been under such pressure before of playing big matches, opponents but then it is a learning experience. I love to learn and with days I am getting a lot better in terms of how to cope up with such things. Altogether, it’s an experience for me as well.
Q: Since you have shared the dressing room with great players like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, how did these individuals motivate you and did you find it difficult to get inducted into the side as a youngster?
Vanitha: Honestly speaking we were good friends off the field even before I made my debut. That actually gave me a good space with them so I never felt as if I was a newcomer in the team. And they never treated one such. They always kept us in the centre of things may it be a conversation regards to cricket or even in off the field activities. They always gave us that importance and probably have helped us grow as a youngster. When you walk into the team you always have a question whether you belong to this level or not? Even I had this question but also for the fact that I had a good rapport with them off the field it actually helped me to discuss cricket. So, those two have actually been wonderful, they have been backing not only me but all the youngsters in the team. They are actually the most jovial people around. They chat and laugh around a lot. Mithali is more of a person who doesn’t talk much, she does it with the action. Jhulan has a lot of pep talk with the players and she takes a lot of effort in making the youngsters comfortable by talking to them and makes them believe that they all belong here.
Q: What are the key things you learnt over the years that has helped you become a better cricketer?
Vanitha: I have learnt that certain things are in your control and some are not. So the things which are in control I started focussing on them. I believe that if you have a strong mind to keep going and luckily I have a good family who backs me up and also there is no financial problem. So, that sort of ups my shoulders and thus I can wholly and solely focus on cricket.
Q: While you are a key member of the T20 side, you are still trying to seal a spot in ODIs. How do you look at it?
Vanitha: Well, at the end of the day as a cricketer I want to play all the formats. I am trying my best and ultimately playing the longest format matters the most. Of course, now I really wanted to be a part of the World Cup but things are different now. Probably all I can do is go back and work even harder because at the end of the day I know what has pulled me down. So my only idea now is to get better than what I was yesterday. I am actually working more on the process rather than the results. I don’t look at results now because the more we tend to look at the results we skip out on the process.
Q: Do you have any particular suggestions for parents of budding women cricketers?
Vanitha: All I want to tell them is let the child know what they want because what you have in mind and what they have in mind are completely different things. There are a few kids who do a lot of things for parents, they sacrifice a lot. But at the end of the day if they do not have the connectivity or urge towards things then it’s of no use. I always suggest that let the child experience, aspire own self so that at end of the day they will be their own boss in life and that is how you grow as a person. Of course, you need guidance but ultimately it’s your life and you need to live it the way you want. I tell this openly and straightly on parents face that if you feel your kid is not progressing then find another alternative for them. Don’t put the kid in pressure situation wherein they get dejected in life when they don’t reach where they really tried for. So as a parent stand by them and never put pressure on them. Results will ultimately come if you work on the process.
Q. What is your fitness mantra?
Vanitha: I start my day with fitness actually. It consists of running and strength work. I have also started working on my stability and body training which I am enjoying a lot. I spend almost 4 hours in a day just for fitness and another 3 hours for cricket. So that’s about 6-7 hours in a day I spend just on fitness. Also, my diet plays a big part, I am very much on diet and believe that it is something which helps us recover as a cricketer and helps us keep in shape. It’s not like how many hours you work but at the end of the day, it’s about what you eat and your sleep pattern as well. I maintain a journal for this to be honest where I write down what I eat every day. By the end of the week, I calculate how many grammes of proteins and carbohydrates I have consumed. I am right now on a diet which is more of high protein and high fat. I hardly consume rice or roti, so basically I am on a gluten free diet.
Q: As an international cricketer not only does one have to be fit physically but you have to be mentally strong as well. What is your perception about the mental aspect of the game and how do you overcome the mental test?
Vanitha: See, what you said is absolutely right and I agree to that. In fact, that is one of the reasons when I sat back and thought that I have a physical trainer, coach for my cricket but I always felt the need to sharpen my mind as well. So, I hired a mental coach- Dr Shree Advani. That helped me in a lot of ways as he was there for me to actually hear me out because as a cricketer you go through a lot of frustration phase when you don’t do well, you tend to go in a negative mindset rather. He has helped me to stay up and positive and shaped the mental side of my game. So, Shree plays a big part in terms of mentoring and monitoring my mind.
Q: Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana have played in the Women’s Big Bash League. Is playing T20 leagues around the world something you too look forward to?
Vanitha: Yes, I mean that is a format which I am good at. So, why not? If you are good at some format you will always want to be a part of it. In fact, you learn a lot while playing with other cricketers their culture, tradition. Everybody’s cricket is different and for me, cricket is a religion. Everybody has got a different aspect towards the game and I would love to rub my shoulders around because that could well be a platform for me to learn even better things.
Q: Do you think the idea of women’s IPL will materialise in India?
Vanitha: Definitely, Yash. If it can be a double header it will surely turn out to be a huge success. That is how cricket in Australia and England is promoted because it’s a double header game. I believe that even if we can bring in the double header in India then I am pretty sure that the game will turn to be famous.
Q: At this point in time, what do you feel should be done to take women’s cricket to the next level in India?
Vanitha: Firstly, I want to put it across that the matches should be broadcasted because that is how you tend to create awareness. However, it has a got lot better now because two years back while playing I saw that nobody was aware. People had a question about whether women play cricket too. But now I don’t think anyone will ask this question. That is why I really wish that the games are broadcasted so that people can see us live in action and they will get to know what talent lies here. In fact, the upcoming World Cup will be broadcasted worldwide so it will provide a platform for the development of cricket in India. So, I am pretty sure that many people will pick the bat and start playing after the World Cup.
Q: With the women’s World Cup around the corner, how do you look at India’s chances going into it and your message for the Indian team?
Vanitha: In terms of preparation, we have had a lot of preparatory camps and the team has been practising day in and out. The camps are very intense because I spoke to few of the team-mates and they said the camps are very intense and in fact, they are enjoying it quite a lot. That’s the right way to prepare for a World Cup, this is the time to grind and bring out the best of every player. Also, the team has travelled earlier so I am very sure they must have got acclimatised to the weather there because that plays a major part in England. So, the girls have been preparing really well.
Q: You along with your brother have started a company called as Orgobliss in 2013. What exactly is it all about?
Vanitha: It’s about an organic business where we focus solely on fruits right now. I felt that probably if I can showcase the world that eating healthy is one of the best ways for us to have a risk free life. Nowadays, because of scarcity and less production people have got into this habit of using pesticides and other substances which are not good for health in terms of production. So, our traditional culture, in fact, our agriculture was organic 30-40 years back so I thought of bringing back that particular culture. It may not be the tastiest one what people eat but at the end of the day eating healthy matters. Not many are still aware of the organic pros and cons but if people will get knowledge then I am pretty sure that down the line we will be full of organic.
Q: You along with some other women cricketers initiated a tournament called as Women Pro Cricket league which was played recently in Mysore. What was the whole idea behind it?
Vanitha: Last month when I travelled to Pune to play an invitation tournament. I felt that these guys were running the tournament just for the sake of it. There was no intensity, lack of proper grounds, proper stay and all. So, while our journey back from Pune all of us decided to have a tournament of our own. Initially, I was not very interested in it but then they were searching for sponsors and they called me to help them out. So, I decided to take over it completely and promised them to get the sponsors. It was a very successful event for an inaugural year. There might have been a few flaws but we are trying our best to keep the cricketers in good shape and give them a lot of match practice. Since we do not play many matches throughout the year I felt that such events can keep them intact.
Q: Are you planning to have another edition of the league in near future?
Vanitha: Definitely, I am planning to come out with another edition for other states because I want it to spread overall and not just Karnataka. I want it to be in and around so that people will come forward and sponsor for it. I’ll give a lot more match practice to women cricketers.
Vanitha is all set for the Rapid Fire Round:
Your nickname: Vani
Favourite ground: Chinnaswamy Stadium
Favourite actor/actress: Well, I don’t have any favourite one as such but I am very fond of Jason Statham
Favourite song: Tired from Alan Walker
Any superstition: I kiss my gloves before every ball (She chuckles)
Favourite cricketer: I admire a lot of Virat Kohli right now for the aggression that he brings but my role models are Mithali Raj and Ricky Ponting.
If not a cricketer then: Obviously, a lawyer (She giggles)
Describe yourself in one word: Happy go, lucky person
Message for young girls who want to take up the game: Enjoy the game. Do not go behind results because this is a sport and it is meant for us to enjoy and relish every moment. Also, sports teaches us a lot of values in life. So, just enjoy the cricket as a youngster.