Kerala leggie Asha finds Joy in WPL

Having toiled hard for more than a decade in domestic circuit, the WPL call-up feels like recognition of her talent for the 30-year-old.
After her stellar show in the 2012-13 T20 season, Asha was picked up by star-studded Railways side. (Photo | BCCI)
After her stellar show in the 2012-13 T20 season, Asha was picked up by star-studded Railways side. (Photo | BCCI)

CHENNAI: Asha Shobana Joy struggles to find words to express what it means to be playing in the Women's Premier League for Royal Challengers Bangalore. All the 30-year-old leg-spinner could manage is a beaming smile with a sparkle in her eyes. Twenty-five years ago when she was blown away watching Sachin Tendulkar go berserk against Australia in Sharjah at a neighbour's house, she had no clue that women's cricket existed, leave alone her playing at the highest level.

Later one day, having returned from school she saw Neetu David bowling in an international match on Doordarshan. She realised that women play cricket at a professional level. In her early days, she used to plead with her PT teacher at Cotton Hill Girls Higher Secondary School, Thiruvananthapuram to know about women's cricket. She went to the district selections without informing her parents. To take up cricket and buy all that is required to be in the sport, it was not easy. Coming from a middle-class family, her father was an auto driver, they were hesitant and struggled to come to terms with it.

However, blessed with immense talent, Asha got a break at a very young age and rose through the ranks. She had all the help she could get from several coaches along the way. Senior Kerala team debut at 14, South Zone at 16, Challengers at 19 — the leg-spinner was marking her territory. That Terry Jenner, Shane Warne's coach, identified her talent at 15 when she was training under him at the MAC Spin Foundation, Chennai and asked everyone else to bowl like her sums it up. After her stellar show in the 2012-13 T20 season, Asha was picked up by star-studded Railways side. For a decade since, she has toiled in the domestic circuit without moving up the ladder.

The turnaround that came when even she did not expect it. In 2022, Asha went to Puducherry to do commentary for a men's T20 tournament. At that point, she had left the Railways team. "The coach there was my U-19 India camp teammate Shweta Mishra. She was a close friend of mine and asked if I would like to come and play for Puducherry. The facilities were excellent and I thought I would give it a try," says Asha.

It came as a blessing for the leg-spinner. From not being a regular feature in the playing XI, Asha found herself captaining a young team, being in a position to set an example and lead from the front. "The association gave us all the freedom and we did well in T20s. We beat Mumbai, lost against Vidarbha in the last over, Baroda in the 19th over, otherwise we could have qualified," she said.

It was significant for her on a personal level too. "In hindsight, I went there at the right time I think, they were scouting for WPL. I was playing for Pondicherry and they happened to watch that match. I believe in timing, god's timing. I learnt a lot from juniors there, to back them up and I was so happy helping them as well," smiles Asha.

For close to two decades, Asha had grown into a name that everyone knows in the cricketing fraternity. When in full flow, she is a wizard. Can turn the ball a mile, had a sharp googly, and had the ability to hit the ball long and hard as well. She was a superstar talent, who at some level, hadn't played to her full potential on a consistent basis. When she was signed by RCB in the auction for `10 lakh, it was a recognition of sorts for what she could do. After all, in modern cricketing terms, she was a proper T20 package.

"I don't think 'self-made' is a thing. No matter where you come from, the people and everyone behind you, even the smallest help, it all counts. It is their support that brought me this long. I knew that I deserve better (sighs with a smile). It is an international platform, and god-willing I will be able to do well and give back to all of them," said Asha.

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