Brazil captain Roberta Moretti Avery is something of a celebrity in women’s cricket.
After rising to prominence during the Covid-19 lockdowns with her innovative social media punching drills, she has since captured attention on and off the pitch.
She is one of 14 women in Brazil with a central contract – Brazilian men do not yet have such privileges – and she has led her team to two South American Championship victories.
And, despite failing to qualify for the T20 World Cup, Avery’s side secured a remarkable one run win in their qualifier against Canada taking five wickets with all five last balls of the match.
Off the pitch, Avery, 37, has appeared on a number of cricket podcasts, including Tailenders, as she seeks to raise the profile of Brazilian and women’s cricket.
Yet despite appearing, at least on the outside, as the bubbly and happy captain of Brazil, Avery struggled with her sanity, to the point that she had a nervous breakdown on the pitch, during a crucial international game.
“I was in a much deeper hole than I thought,” Avery recalled. “I was even in physical pain – my body was swollen, I had the flu three times, I was physically and mentally sensitive, and I became distant.
“I wanted to get away from everyone because I didn’t understand how I felt. But I couldn’t because I’m the captain and I have to be strong.
“I had to put the band before me, so I pushed my feelings away where they were turning into a huge ball of darkness.
“Every day I had to get up and show up wearing a mask. I put on my fake smile, my fake happiness and performed.
“I was often told ‘once you’re on the pitch, you leave everything else’ and I did that until I couldn’t take it anymore.”
The decline in his health was not an overnight change, but a confluence of factors. This desire to suppress her feelings pushed her to her limits and almost caused her to give up cricket.
“I came back from a tournament in Dubai and was considering an immediate break,” said Avery. “But I’m captain and we had the South American championship, so I had to make some tough choices.
“I had spoken to my therapist and weighed the pros and cons. I knew how guilty I would feel to leave the team, so that outweighed my desire to stay home.”
Still, the midrange hitter was the league’s top scorer (201 points).
Yet it prompted her to utter a phrase she never thought she would utter: “I hate cricket!”
“There’s a team photo after the semi-final,” Avery said. “I had scored 50 points and made the winning points and everyone was smiling, ready to shake hands with Argentina. Everyone except me.
“I look at my bat completely exhausted. I look at this photo and I cry because it shows how I felt. I couldn’t keep the mask on. I was broken.
“In that game I was so low that I had a nervous breakdown on the pitch and I don’t remember it. At the changeover I said ‘I can’t cope. I must leave “.
“Escape was not an option and then I was heading for the middle. All I remember was the huge sense of relief when it was finally over.”
When she told the team about her break, some took it by surprise. All they saw was her “mask” and it was assumed she would be back in a few weeks.
“I needed to get away from it all to rediscover myself,” she says, jokingly adding “the problem being that I have a net in my house, I call my husband ‘the bowling alley’ and I have two dogs named after cricketers – Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad!”
Kidding aside, it was a break from the train, eat, work, sleep cycle that was needed.
“I had always been going 200mph and I came on stage, I didn’t know who Roberta was. I was Roberta the cricketer rather than Roberta the human with real feelings.”
So what helped the Brazil captain through these difficult months?
“A therapy. People may be nervous or embarrassed, but it’s the best thing to do,” she says. “I also had to find my support system and share how I felt.
“How can people help if you don’t tell them how you feel?
“The other was rediscovering what I love outside of cricket. I was waiting for that big moment to shock myself to happiness but it’s actually the little things. I can look out the window and appreciate the beauty or celebrate the end of the week with a wine. Cricket isn’t the only happy thing.”
Roberta isn’t the only top cricketer to step away from the game to focus on better mental health.
In 2022, versatile England star Nat Sciver and Australia captain Meg Lanning both went on hiatus citing mental fatigue.
“It’s huge that Nat and Meg have spoken out,” adds Avery. “It shows others that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that mental health affects us all. You can be great on the pitch and lead a national team winning everything while feeling broken.
“Meg was a shock to me. I met her at the Commonwealth Games and she was serious and focused and I was in awe of her as a cricketer.
“She lifted that trophy and none of us knew she was unwell. We saw Meg Lanning the player and forgot Meg Lanning the person.”
Avery hopes that sharing her story and being open about mental health and challenging societal pressures on women and girls will help break taboos.
“There’s tremendous pressure on women to be everything,” she says. “We feel the pressure to perform and believe we cannot show weakness. The more women share their struggles, the more girls will understand that anyone can ask for help.
“I found my safe space, rediscovered myself and my love for cricket. I can talk about it and smile now and I’m really excited to be back there.
“I would tell Roberta before my break that it’s okay to quit and feel that way. It’s okay to say no. Allow yourself to speak and grow and you will find that smile and that spark in your life and your life. cricket.”
Roberta will remove her pads in January as she prepares for the South American Championships, ICC World Cup Qualifiers and the Fairbreak Invitational in Hong Kong.
It’s a hectic schedule, but the now smiling captain has the tools at her fingertips to enjoy the game again and rediscover Roberta – the human, the cricketer, the fighter.
- Information and help for the issues raised in this article can be found by visiting BBC Action Line.