KOCHI: Over a decade ago, a tribal girl from the foothills of Mananthavady in Wayanad district of Kerala decided to take the road less travelled and hoped to make a living from the game she held close to her heart, cricket. On Tuesday, 23-year-old Minnu Mani took a big step towards realizing her dream when she was picked up at the auctions of the inaugural Women’s Premier League in Mumbai by Delhi Capitals for Rs 30 lakhs.
“I haven’t seen 30 lakh rupees ever in my life. I can’t describe my emotions right now,” Minnu told TOI from Hyderabad, where she is representing South Zone in the inter-zone tournament.
However, the journey hasn’t been easy for Minnu. Minnu’s family belongs to the Kurichiya tribe in Choyimoola in Wayanad, and her dad Mani CK is a daily wage labourer while her mom Vasantha is a homemaker. She started playing the game with boys and cousins at the nearby paddy fields when she was 10. She took cricket seriously when she joined the Government High School, Idapaddi in standard 8, where she came under the tutelage of Elsamma Baby, a physical education teacher.
Seeing her talent, Elsamma took Minnu to attend the selection trials of the Wayanad District Under-13 team. But her parents were against the idea of her playing. “My dad didn’t have a regular job. They tried to discourage me from playing at first and told me that cricket was meant for boys. It was only after a lot of convincing did they allow me to go for the trials. But the moment I got picked in that trials and later got selected for a junior girls’ state camp at the KCA Academy, Thodupuzha, they had a change of heart and began to support me wholeheartedly,” Minnu recollects her initiation to the game.
She graduated to the Kerala U-16 team when she was 15 and within a year, she was in the state senior team.
Minnu had to overcome several obstacles to keep her cricketing dream afloat. The nearest practice facility for Minnu from her home was the KCA Stadium in Krishnagiri. “My day starts at 4 when I am at home. I help my mom cook food for me. The Krishnagiri stadium is about an hour and a half from my home. Since there is no direct bus service to Krishnagiri from my place, I switch four buses to reach my practice venue around 9. By the time I get back home around 7 in the evening, I am exhausted,” tells Minnu.
However, Minnu’s trials didn’t end there. “My dad borrowed money from his friends to help play in the initial years. When I started earning by playing I helped him repay the loans and built a small house for my family. That’s when the floods struck and destroyed a large portion of my home. Thanks to cricket, I have managed to rebuild it now,” said Minnu.
Minnu has been an integral part of the Kerala women’s team and has played for India ‘A’ and India Blue in Challenger Trophy. A right-arm off-spinner and a left-hand batter, Minnu was the top run-getter in the recently concluded Women’s All-India One-day tournament with 246 runs from eight matches and also claimed 12 wickets.
At the Delhi Capitals, Minnu will be lining up alongside the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues, Meg Lanning and Shafali Verma. And by playing for Capitals, Minnu hopes that her daily troubles will abate and she can realise her dream of playing for the country. “WPL is going to be huge. Good performances in WPL will be noted and it can open the doors to the Indian team,” she said.
While most of India’s male cricketers, including the domestic ones, buy swanky cars as soon as they fetch an IPL contract, Minnu’s ambitions are modest “I will buy a scooter first. It will help me overcome the trouble of taking four buses for practice and save a lot of time which i can devote to practice” said Minnu.