Roberta Moretti Avery: the popular Brazilian captain in the fight against depression

Roberta Moretti Avery: the popular Brazilian captain in the fight against depression

Roberta Moretti Avery: the popular Brazilian captain in the fight against depression

Roberta Moretti Avery is interviewed on camera
Roberta Moretti Avery tries to end the stigma surrounding women’s mental health in cricket

Brazil captain Roberta Moretti Avery is something of a women’s cricket celebrity.

She gained awareness during the Covid-19 lockdowns thanks to her innovative batons exercises on social media and has been turning heads both on and off the pitch ever since.

She is one of 14 women in Brazil who have a central contract – Brazilian men do not have such privileges yet – and she led her team to two victories in the South American championship.

And despite failing to qualify for the T20 World Cup, Avery’s team achieved a remarkable one-run victory in the qualifying match against Canada, scoring five goals in the last five balls of the match.

Off the pitch, Avery, 37, has appeared on numerous cricket podcasts, including Tailenders, in an effort to boost the popularity of both Brazil and women’s cricket.

However, despite appearing, at least outwardly, to be the bubbling, happy captain of Brazil, Avery struggles with her mental health, to the point where she suffered a nervous breakdown on the pitch during a crucial international match.

“I was in a much deeper hole than I thought,” recalls Avery. “I even suffered physically – my body was swollen, I had the flu three times, I was physically and mentally vulnerable, I became distant.

“I wanted to walk away from everyone because I didn’t understand what I was feeling. But I couldn’t because I’m the captain and I have to be strong.

“I had to put the group in front of me, so I pushed my feelings where they were building into a huge ball of darkness.

“Every day I had to get up and show myself wearing a mask. I put on my fake smile, fake happiness and played.

“I’ve often been told that when you’re on the pitch, you leave everything else behind,” and I did until I couldn’t take it anymore.

The deterioration of her health was not an overnight change, but a combination of factors. This desire to suppress her feelings drove her to the limit and almost caused her to quit cricket.

“I returned from the Dubai tournament and was considering taking an immediate break,” Avery said. “But I’m the captain and we had the South American Championship so I had to make difficult choices.

“I spoke to my therapist and weighed all the pros and cons. I knew how guilty I would feel to leave the band, so that outweighed my desire to stay home.”

Despite everything, the intermediate hitter was the top scorer (201 runs) of the championship.

However, it forced her to say a sentence she never thought she would say: “I hate cricket!”

“There’s a photo of the team after the semi-final,” Avery said. “I scored 50 points and went on winning streaks and everyone is smiling, ready to shake hands with Argentina. All but me.

“I look at my bat completely exhausted. I look at this picture and cry because it shows how I felt. I couldn’t hold the mask. I was broken.

“In that game I was so low that I had a nervous breakdown on the pitch and I don’t remember anything about it. I changed the innings and said ‘I can’t do it. I have to leave.’

“Escape was out of the question, and then I was heading inside. All I remember is a huge sense of relief when it was finally over.”

When she told the band about her hiatus, some were surprised. All they saw was her “mask” and it was presumed she would return within a few weeks.

“I had to get away to rediscover myself,” she says, jokingly adding, “the problem is I have a net at home, I call my husband ‘bowling machine’ and I have two dogs named after cricket players – Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad!”

Kidding aside, this was a break from the cycle of train, food, work, sleep that was needed.

“I was always going 200 mph and I got to a stage where I didn’t know who Roberta was. I was Roberta the cricketer rather than Roberta a man with real feelings.”

So what helped the Brazilian captain get through these difficult months?

“Therapy. People can be upset or embarrassed, but that’s the best thing,” he says. “I also needed to find my support system and share how I was feeling.

“How can people help if you don’t tell them how you feel?

“The second was rediscovering what I love outside of cricket. I’ve been waiting for this big moment to shock me with happiness, but really it’s the little things. I can look out the window and appreciate the beauty or celebrate the end of the week with wine. Cricket is not the only joyful thing.

Roberta is not the only high-profile cricketer to retire from the game to focus on better mental health.

In 2022, England all-round star Nat Sciver and Australia captain Meg Lanning took a break citing mental fatigue.

“It’s great that Nat and Meg talked,” adds Avery. “It shows others that it is possible to be vulnerable and that mental health concerns us all. You can be great on the pitch and lead the national team, winning everything, and still feel broken.

“Meg was a shock to me. I met her at the Commonwealth Games, she was serious and focused, and I admired her as a cricketer.

“She lifted that trophy and none of us knew she wasn’t okay. We saw Meg Lanning as a player and forgot about Meg Lanning as a person.”

Avery hopes that sharing her story and being open about mental health and defying societal pressure on women and girls will help break taboos.

“There’s a lot of pressure on women to be everything,” she says. “We feel the pressure to perform and we 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 now and smile, and I’m really excited to be back there.

“I would tell Roberta before the break that it’s okay to stop and feel that way. It’s okay to say no. Allow yourself to speak and grow and you will have that smile and that spark back in your life and cricket.”

Roberta will wear the pads again in January in preparation for the South American Championships, ICC World Championship Qualifiers and Fairbreak Invitational in Hong Kong.

It’s a packed calendar, but now the smiling captain has the tools at his fingertips to enjoy the game again and rediscover Roberta – man, cricket, fighter.

  • Information and help with the issues raised in this article can be found at BBC action line.

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