Of faith and patience to hope and joy: Journey of Asha Sobhana

India's latest debutant in the ODIs, cap no 143, relates the most with the aforementioned verse and the story of Job from the Bible. For it has been her living and breathing experience.
Asha Sobhana took 4/21 on her ODI debut against South Africa, the second-best ODI figures on debut for India.
Asha Sobhana took 4/21 on her ODI debut against South Africa, the second-best ODI figures on debut for India.Photo | Shashidhar Byrappa, EPS

CHENNAI: "There is a story of Job in the Bible. He was a true believer of God," Asha Sobhana says over a Zoom call.

"Satan would come and ask Job if he could give up on God. (If he did so) Satan would give everything back—his richness, health, everything. However, Job stuck by God and he continued to praise God during his difficult times. Eventually, his life was backed by God. So he stuck with the belief in God and the reward was there. I think we need to wait for that moment to come, no matter what darkness we go through. That's what I have learned."

India's latest debutant in the ODIs, cap no 143, relates the most with the aforementioned verse and the story of Job from the Bible. For it has been her living and breathing experience.

The 33-year-old, who was probably nowhere near plans for international cricket two years ago, to have a debut in both white-ball formats within two months is a story of patience backed by her unwavering faith.

On Sunday, it all came together as Asha took 4/21 and helped India beat South Africa by 143 runs at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru.

Asha's endurance did not come overnight. It all started in the mid-2000s, when she made her senior debut for Kerala and has continued over the past two decades with every side she has represented—Railways, Pondicherry and so on.

"Domestic cricket in India is tough because we have more than 20 sides with quality players. Every team will have two or three Indian players, zonal players, and somebody who played for the Challenger trophy. Playing from Railways helped me to be mentally strong and perform. In that team, you find players who were part of the Indian team and there would be one or two domestic players. You have to earn your place in the Railways XI. Playing from Kerala helped me, as a leader to show the juniors how to go about it. Pondicherry helped me grow as well. When you keep performing at the domestic level continuously, the result will come. Maybe it will take some time, but the result will come," Asha tells TNIE.

Consistent performance at the domestic level doesn't always guarantee a spot in the national squad and that is when the test of Asha's patience truly began. She was consistent but needed visibility to truly make a splash.

Just like Job, she had faith by her side in the trying times. Eventually, the opportunity came knocking in the format of the Women's Premier League in 2023. As fate would have it, Asha's name was not included in the first auction list announced by the BCCI. Ultimately, faith prevailed.

"Well, for me, faith was everything. I came out in WPL out of nothing. My name was not on the auction list when they published it. It was a miracle that my name was added on the auction day. Can you imagine? My name was not even there on the auction list. And here I am and I have already played for India. That is a miracle with my hard work," her eyes lit up talking about the journey.

Once Asha earned her spot in the Royal Challengers Bengaluru squad, she found herself in the playing XI regularly. Led by Smriti Mandhana, the franchise had a forgetful first season where the team failed to make it to the top three and was ruled out even before the knockouts.

Coming into the second season of the WPL in 2024, one of the beloved cricket franchises, needed to win. That is when the skillset Asha had been honing over the years in domestic cricket came in handy.

As one of the few leg spinners in the competition, she made most of her opportunities to turn Bengaluru's fate. Backed by Mandhana, she took 12 wickets in the season as her side lifted the trophy.

"Smriti is always my go-to person, whenever I have any doubts, I always go to her and discuss things. Getting a spinner at the right time for the right batters is the captain's choice. She made all the right choices. It is difficult to make such choices in a difficult time, but she had so much belief in me," Asha said.

It was fitting that the day Asha made her ODI debut and took four wickets, Mandhana scored her first ODI century on home soil. It was also fitting that Mandhana handed Asha her T20I debut cap against Bangladesh in May, which was her first experience of playing for the side she had watched only from some distance in the past.

"It's a wonderful feeling. When we watch on TV, the Indian team plays such a beautiful brand of cricket. Playing in that team, among players like Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti and other players, I felt nice. I thought the Indian team would be serious about the game, but they were cool. (laughs) We (herself and other debutant S Sajana) didn't have a feeling that we were playing in the Indian team for the first time. That credit should go to the management, captain and vice-captain," she mentioned.

In Bengaluru on Sunday, Asha received another debut cap, this time from captain Kaur against South Africa. After a scintillating Mandhana century, India's pacers got going with the early wickets.

Asha then got the chance to bowl against one of her favourite players, whom she had troubled in the past. "The wicket of Marizanne Kapp in the WPL final was special because she is one of my favourite players. Getting her wicket was a big thing for me. Everything went according to the plan."

And as fate would have it, her first ODI wicket was Kapp, who had helped her side recover from an early wobble.

'And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up," says the bible (Galatians 6:9). Asha's journey from domestic cricket to having the second-best ODI figures on debut for India has reflected that saying.

For her, patience and faith have led to hope. And ultimately, to joy, as her name suggests. It may sound unconventional, but that same patience and faith has allowed her to start a new journey at the age of 33. And if her performance in the debut match was any indication, more rewards are coming her way.

Brief scores:
India 265/8 in 50 ovs (Smriti Mandhana 117, Ayabonga Khaka 3/47) beat South Africa 122 all out in 37.4 ovs (Sune Luus 33; Asha Sobhana 4/24) 

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