On January 14th, 2020 Cricket Brazil presented 14 central contracts to their women. A statement to the rest of the world that investing in sport doesn’t have to be given to the men first by default and then later to the women who’ll inevitably have to play catch up. It is said that cricket in Brazil has ‘no gender’, that it’s enjoyed equally by both boys and girls and respected as a game for both.
Emerging Cricket spoke to Cricket Brazil’s charismatic and trailblazing women’s captain, Roberta Moretti Avery on the team’s year as fully fledged professionals in a world disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She beams with pride as she discusses what professionalism has meant to her and the precedent that Cricket Brazil has set.
‘The women’s team from Brazil is the best [cricket] team from Brazil. We’re the ones who have the most chances of actually getting through the qualifiers that get into the World Cup,’ she says.
But her response goes beyond heralding the side’s competitiveness on the field. ‘But my second response to that is, I’m so proud to be part of a country that is empowering women to say ‘you know what? Women can do it, girls can do it, anyone can do it’. It doesn’t matter who it is, but we are the team that is the best, so we’re the ones carrying the Brazilian flag forward first,’ she says.
For Moretti Avery, the awarding of the central contracts has been a game changer on multiple fronts. ‘It changed the whole structure of Cricket Brazil. So, a new training centre and an English coach coming in to stay with us for most of the year; [introducing] physical training, mental training, physical therapy. Now we actually feel that we have what we need to become professional athletes. Before we didn’t, we didn’t have the whole support of Brazil Cricket. Now they say ok, you know what we’re investing in you,’ she continues.
It’s important to note that these contracts were not a token gesture, but a statement of intent from Cricket Brazil President Matt Featherstone. The side are on an unbeaten ten-game winning streak, annihilating their most recent opponents comprehensively. This included a 162-run victory over Peru.
‘By 2019 we had won the South American championship for the fourth time in five years and that was a big change from what Cricket Brazil used to be when it started in 2007. From 2007 to 2014 we were always the second team in South America. We had a group of players, but this group would play whenever they had the time. They would have coaching whenever it was possible because we pretty much had no structure whatsoever.’
‘But when we had the social projects started in Brazil and actually teaching all of these kids, we had a new generation of players coming through. The structure is still developing, but we have classes at structured times, we have a national championship for ladies, and we have started to have a national ladies league so all of these things are growing little by little [for us] to say okay we can actually grow cricket in Brazil for the women.’
Now, having bagged their fourth South American championship title Brazil’s dominance begs the question. What next?
Moretti is quick to note that Brazil’s women have been looking ahead to the future for a while now. ‘As a team, we were always thinking ‘what’s next’? What is that next level for us? Where are we going from here? Our president Matt Featherstone said to us “okay if we’re going to start thinking about World Cup Qualifiers, the possibility of the Olympics, we need to get you into structured training. You need to be committed to us all the time.”‘
The rest, as they say, is history.
According to Moretti Avery, the offering of central contracts ‘was perfect timing because we had just opened our high-performance centre, so we had a proper area to train. It was going to be new for us, as before, we were part time athletes. So, to begin with it was completely different. Training five days a week together. It was a big change.
Contracts also created a change in perspective and aspirations. ‘The whole structure change made me feel confident to chase my dreams and this has been massive for the clubs as well. There’s a new sense of excitement for all the ladies, they’re training harder. So, it has given a different perspective to everyone in the pathway. Women in the pathway are now saying “you know what, we can do that as well.” So, it is a big change not only getting a salary to play, but everything else that it meant for us.’
However, after just a few months of being a professional cricketer and getting used to the new working week, the COVID-19 pandemic put training on hold as the country locked down.
‘We had to stop for pretty much four months at home, but we kept doing meetings with the team. We kept our physical training happening which was new for the girls as well. Most of them hadn’t done any physical training before,’ says Moretti.
‘The hardest thing was that we didn’t have any competitions, but we have been able to play against the men and some with the U17s national team.’
The lack of competitive fixtures is something that has hindered the growth of Associate nations for some time, but Roberta is hoping that will change in 2021 with a busier calendar than ever before.
‘As soon as the borders open for us and they say it’s safe to travel, we’re going to tour Argentina, and we hope to tour Europe as well. We need to play more and against better teams. That’s one thing that we have always spoken, the need for more competition.’
Stronger competition will help Brazil’s women aspire to greater things.
‘One thing that I believe a lot is that we cannot be what we cannot see. So, we try to watch as many women’s games here and watch women’s professional players because we need to see what is out there. So, we can actually say, ‘ok I can be that good or I can improve these areas and other fundamentals. That’s our intention anyways.’
On the point of ‘see it, to be it’, the team had the opportunity for a call with England’s Danni Wyatt to ask questions about her playing career, training tips and general cricket advice.
On the session with Wyatt, Moretti Avery says, ‘it was amazing. She’s this massive, amazing athlete and she was just talking to us as a normal person and was so open sharing her experiences, sharing her routines. And you can see that these people are normal people. They’re just talented and very hard workers. So, it’s good for the younger girls and myself to actually see these players and see that they are normal people that work very hard and they struggle the same ways as we do.’
For Moretti Avery, international role models are crucial at this stage in Brazil’s development. ‘It’s very important to have this connection with these players because we do not have Brazilian players to look up to. We are still very young, we don’t have a long history. So, we have to look at role models from other countries. Danni Wyatt was a perfect role model for us to talk to.’
Finally, despite COVID-19, Roberta believes 2020 will be marked as the moment that ‘changed it all’, where the entry into professionalism was just the start of a new era for women’s cricket in Brazil.
‘We do believe that 2020 was the year of change. We’ll look back in ten years’ time and say remember when we did the central contracts and look how far we are now. Hopefully, we’ll be the ones giving the talk to players and getting them inspired to be as proud as I am to wear the Brazilian shirt.’
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Always like to see mainstream participants in the game. But we’ll see if they really
deserve those contracts at the Americas Qualifier. If Canada/USA annihilate them
they should only right that they give some of that dough back. They didn’t earn it.