Want to be the first woman to play for India after having a baby: Cricketer Sneha Deepthi
India women’s cricketer Sneha Deepthi recently spoke about her attempt to make a comeback to the sport following the birth of her daughter and said the desire to return to the field is stronger than ever.
The Andhra Pradesh-based cricketer, Sneha is the youngest player to play for the Indian national team in T20I. Having made her India debut in 2013 alongside Smriti Mandhana, she was dropped after just one series against Bangladesh.
Since then, lots have happened in Sneha’s life. She got married to Philip Maddirala and delivered a daughter, Kriva.
Now, Sneha has made a successful return to the domestic circuit, captaining Andhra in List-A and T20 cricket, and then leading Vizianagaram Royals to the title in the inaugural Andhra Premier League earlier this month.
Her return to action was well planned almost as soon as she found out about her pregnancy.
“When I got to know that I was pregnant, he (her husband Philip) was like, 'you should come back,” Sneha told the New Indian Express.
“This one year is your vacation kind of time. Once the baby comes off, within two months, you should start your routines,’ he said. Everybody got mad; even I got mad,” she added.
It quickly dawned on her that her husband was right. At the age of 23, “there was plenty of cricket left in her”.
But after Kriva was born in February 2021, Sneha was unsure of whether she wanted to play again as weighed 95kgs.
“I was so fat that I thought I would never play again. (But then) I thought, ‘No, this is not me. I cannot sit at home, leave my cricket, leave my batting. That is the real me’. Then I saw all my batting videos. I felt I should be there again playing. I should be there again, hitting those boundaries and sixes.”
Sneha started training in Hyderabad in 2021, but soon realised that it might not be enough. Her home board, the Andhra Cricket Association came to her rescue, by provide her with the facilities to help her comeback. She had to move to Mangalagiri, leaving Kriva in Hyderabad.
"Even after starting, I couldn’t handle the pain. I was emotionally in a bad state. I thought I would give up. My body used to say No. Then, my daughter’s face would flash, and I'll say, 'No, for my daughter, I should finish my set. I should finish my training'. That is how I pushed myself hard. I am sacrificing a lot. More than me, my daughter is sacrificing a lot. So, I should push myself. I should be a little stronger. Even now, when I remember my daughter, I don’t mind where I am, I just cry. The tears will roll. I will tell myself, 'no, you should be strong'."
Sneha felt that female athletes who want to have children should be provided with all the assistance possible. She added that women should be encouraged to return to the field of play after having children.
Sacrifice for the career
“Yes, for a mother leaving a baby is a big thing, but if you have a career, you should do it. When a father is doing this, even a mother has a right to do this. You should give them support because they need it. You should normalise these things. Only then girls would go ahead with marriages and have babies and then would come back. Even the families should allow the daughters and daughters-in-law to play after having a baby. Once these recognitions come up, they (players) will also take these things,” Sneha said.
Among the 19 players, who were contracted between October 2020 and September 2021, none are yet married. The last woman to make a comeback after pregnancy and play at the top level was Neha Tanwar, who represented India A in 2017, three years after having a baby.
Parental policy needed
BCCI is yet to have an official parental policy. Sneha feels that having an official policy in place would make a lot of things easier for the players.
“When we only focus on cricket, we leave personal life. Like every cricketer, I said no to marriage, but my father convinced me. Not everybody's family will support it. If the association or BCCI supports them, they will also push themselves. They will take a break for a year or two and then will come back. Age should not be a criterion. Even today, 30 is so normal. Men don’t miss their professional life after kids, then why not women. This is what you call feminism — giving equal rights and opportunities to play cricket.”
She is just 25 and wants to do a lot more than playing domestic cricket. While she might not be someone who plans for the future, somewhere deep inside her heart, the flame to represent India again is still burning.
“Till now, nobody has played for India after having a baby. I want to be the first woman to do this. That is how in India, things will change. As a mother, if you play, by seeing me, a lot of girls will take it up as a career. If I do this (make a comeback), I might inspire them to take up this sport. I definitely want to make a comeback for India. That is why I have done all the sacrifices.
“My baby has made a lot of sacrifices. I am not around when she is doing a few things for the first time. So, all this emotional sacrifice will only make sense if I give it my all. Playing for India is a fruit. I don't expect the fruit, but I will definitely want to put all my effort in so that I will get the results someday. Then, my daughter will be proud of the sacrifices I made. For my daughter and a lot of girls, I really want to come back. I should be a living example for my daughter. Playing for India or not, if I make a comeback for the country, the impact will be bigger. I will give my best shot.”