KOCHI: Ondayangadi, a quaint hamlet in the hinterlands of Wayanad, was buzzing on Sunday afternoon when India women took on their counterparts from Bangaldesh in a T20 match. For on the playing XI was Minnu Mani, one of the daughters of the land who was recently selected to the Indian squad for the white-ball series in Bangladesh.
As players took to the field at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium, hundreds tuned in from the front yard of Minnu’s house, the same place where she ran numerous laps while training to become a cricketer. Among the crowd – all eager to catch a glimpse of Minnu in the blue jersey – were even those who had once questioned why a young girl was playing cricket, deemed a ‘dangerous’ sport, alongside boys in the paddy fields nearby.
But after the third over, when Minnu was handed the ball, they cheered the loudest. Some winced as Minnu’s second ball, pitched outside off, was smacked by Bangladesh’s Shamima Sultana for a maximum, and her third, a flatter length ball, was deposited to the boundary. But those who knew Minnu best dismissed it as only the nerves of just getting started.
“It was likely the pressure of playing on the biggest stage. But she managed it well,” said Sajana S, the captain of the Kerala women’s team. She and the others were right. For Minnu came back again with a fiery delivery, inviting the Bangladesh opener to have a go once again. It turned out to be trap. Jemimah Rodrigues, who was waiting at the square leg, nestled the ball in her palms. Sultana was walking back to the pavilion. Ondayangadi erupted with joy, as did Kerala.
If her first three balls had gone for 11 runs, her next 15 conceded just 10 runs, displaying her ability to overcome setbacks and return stronger, a sought-after trait in any sport. Following Minnu’s stellar performance, Vasantha, her mother, distributed sweets to everyone gathered. “Everyone came, from the entire neighbourhood. We are extremely delighted with Minnu’s performance. Though she got hit for runs in the first few balls, she came back stronger. She will do well,” said an ecstatic Vasantha.
Though India won the match on the back of captain Harmanpreet Kaur’s 35-ball half-century, which included six boundaries and two maximums, Minnu’s performance could not be discounted. In getting rid of Bangladesh’s dangerous opener, she too helped pave the way for India Women’s comfortable win.
“To be selected into the national side is a feat in itself. To be picked for the first game in the series and take a wicket in the first over is just plain terrific,” said a delighted Justin Fernandes, the coach of Kerala Cricket Academy in Wayanad, Minnu’s second home. “This performance is a big morale booster for her. We hope she gets picked for the remaining T20Is,” Justin added. Sajana said the same. “We are yet to see Minnu’s fiery best. We will see that in the upcoming matches,” she said. “For now, we are celebrating this victory,” said Sajana. Indeed, the whole of Kerala is.