Minnu Mani
Minnu Mani, with her mother and sister. Photos courtesy of Minnu

Women’s Premier League: Minnu Mani’s journey, from a tribal hamlet to Delhi Capitals

In A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport (Picador, 2002), Ramachandra Guha details the life of a Dalit cricketer, Palwankar Baloo, whose life had been an inspiration for B R Ambedkar. Guha points out that a number of Dalits competed at the highest level in cricket in the early 20th century. But after Independence, there was a steep decline in the participation of Dalits in the game.

Also read: Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2023 squads, player prices after auction

There have been 305 players in Indian Test cricket history with Srikar Bharat, who made his debut last week against Australia, being the recent addition. Only a small number of these players have been confirmed to be from the scheduled castes or tribes. In actuality, we lack information regarding the castes of the players.

A surreal moment

Given such a backdrop, the selection of a tribal girl from Wayanad district of Kerala in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) gains significance. Edappady colony of Chozhimoola, Manathawady, was just another tribal settlement till the 23-year-old woman cricketer Minnu Mani made it big in the first WPL auction held last week. Now, Chozhimoola has its own heroine who will be playing WPL cricket, along with Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur and Australia’s Meg Lanning.

Also read: Women’s Premier League (WPL): Smriti Mandhana named RCB captain

Minnu's old house
Minnu’s old house

When the Delhi Capitals bid Rs 30 lakh, a whopping amount threefold of her base price, it was ‘surreal’ for Minnu. “I have not seen that much money in my life. I was stunned to see the franchises bidding for me. Initially, I was not very hopeful, seeing senior India capped players going unsold, but when the moment came, it was beyond words and more than what I could have ever dreamt,” Minnu told The Federal.

‘An exceptional talent’

Minnu Mani, the eldest daughter of C K Mani and Vasantha, daily wage labourers from Edappady tribal colony, started playing cricket with her cousins and friends in the nearby fields when she was barely 10 years old. Like most of India’s women cricketers, boys were her playmates until she learned about women’s cricket while studying in high school classes. Her physical education teacher Elsamma, whose daughter Anumol Baby is a state-level cricketer, introduced her to a proper cricket pitch.

Also read: Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2023 schedule, venues, match times

“Minnu grabbed my attention as a mid-distance runner, who participated in 600- and 400-meter races at school athletic meets. I was looking for cricketing talents in my students as well as my daughter was playing in the Kerala team then. That’s how I came across this girl. We had another girl, Sajana Sajeevan, who is now the captain of the South zone team. Both of them were exceptional talents,” recalls Elsamma Baby. “Minnu impressed me with her left-handed batting and excellent fielding. She is an outstanding fielder; so was Sajana,” says their teacher.

The road to success

Minnu’s journey from the tribal hamlet of Mananthawady to the training camp of the Delhi Capitals was not easy. After being selected for the district and state teams, young Minnu had to get up at 4 in the morning to travel by bus to the training facility, which is an hour and a half away. “I used to wake up by 4 AM and help my mom in cooking breakfast and lunch, and then catch a bus to the training ground. My parents also needed to go for work as they are daily wagers. Now what I want the most is to provide them a peaceful life. They have struggled a lot for us, especially for me. Then, I would buy myself a scooter so that I would not be late for the training anymore,” says Minnu.

Also read: Women’s Premier League auctions: RCB buys Smriti Mandhana at Rs 3.4 crore

Minnu’s father, Mani C K, who is a school dropout and hardly knew what cricket was, did not like his daughter playing cricket, especially with the boys. He did not have any idea about the game she played and her passion towards it. “Initially, it was tough for me to fathom her attitude towards the game. But, gradually, I could understand how talented she was. Then we started supporting her by whatever means we could. We borrowed money from several people to facilitate her, but now both of us are happy that she achieved things that we could not have even dreamt of. She is now taking care of the family as well,” says Mani.

Minnu's new house
Minnu’s new house

“I have not seen her playing in real cricket matches, but now we will get to see her on TV,” her father says. “Now I know a thing or two about the game,” he adds.

When Kerala women won the all India T20 title in 2019, Minnu was the top scorer and highest wicket taker, paving the way to her selection to the emerging players camp and, subsequently, to the team. Minnu played all the matches in the Women’s emerging players Asia cup, but could not come up with a significant performance.

“I don’t blame luck. Despite playing all the games in the tournament, I could not mark my presence with a notable performance. Even though I hit the winning shot in the match against Pakistan, it was not enough for a national call,” says Minnu.

A bigger stage

However, the camp was a great opportunity for her to meet prominent figures in Indian women’s cricket such as Smrithi Mandana. “Smrithi was incredibly useful. We had a lengthy discussion about how I could improve my game, and I think it was very beneficial.”

Now, with Delhi Capitals putting their money on her, Minnu is very excited and hopeful that she can showcase her talent on a bigger stage. Moreover, Minnu is overwhelmed that she would be sharing the dressing room with Harmanpreet Kaur and Australian captain Meg Lanning, along with the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues, Poonam Yadav, and Shefali Verma.

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