From struggle to stardom with RCB: Heady story of accidental leg-spinner Asha Sobhana

Bengaluru, Feb 25 (PTI) Asha Sobhana’s parents were in a state of panic and were ready to rush to a nearby police station to file a missing complaint when their daughter failed to turn up at home even three hours after the regular school closing time.

But panic soon gave way to relief when Asha returned to her home at Peroorkada in Thiruvananthapuram around 7.30 PM, announcing her selection to the district women’s cricket team with a beaming smile and scream.

Her parents understood the depth of passion their daughter had for cricket at that moment and decided to support her.

All those efforts have now taken Asha to the Royal Challengers Bangalore ranks in the Women’s Premier League, and the leg-spinner’s five-wicket haul (5/22) was the catalyst in their thrilling two-run win over UP Warriorz here on Saturday.

Asha said the RCB contract came to her at the right time as she was toying with the idea of quitting the game because of no recognition even after toiling in domestic cricket for well over a decade.

“The RCB contract came at the right time. I was in a dilemma whether to quit the sport or continue. But the RCB scout team of Malolan (Rangarajan) sir and (VR) Vanitha kept faith in me after trials and Malo sir told me: ‘You are at a different level as a leg-spinner.’ Kudos to them for keeping faith in me and encouraging me,” said Asha in a select media interaction.

Now, Asha, an ardent fan of former Australian wrist spinner Stuart MacGill, might be an accomplished leg-spinner and mainstay of RCB bowling unit, but the 32-year-old began as a medium pacer.

“I started playing cricket at the Central Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram under late Sreekumar sir. I started as a fast bowler but one day he saw me bowling leg-spin after a training session as I was tired.

“He did not get angry. But he told me to continue bowling leg-spin and it was a big turning point in my career,” said Asha.

But her life is not made of such accidentalities, as she warded off several hardships to make a career out of cricket.

“I was a kid mad about cricket. We used to make cricket balls by rolling newspaper sheets and stuffing them inside a milk cover,” she said.

It was quite understandable because for a family whose main source of income was the earnings from her father’s autorickshaw trips in the Kerala capital, it was unthinkable to buy costly cricket gears or send her to an expensive academy.

But Asha, now working in South Central Railways, found her saviours in her early coaches.

“When I was studying in my seventh grade at the Cotton Hills School (Thiruvananthapuram), our PET Thankamany madam told us that women’s cricket team selection is scheduled and interested girls can take part.

“I went to the trials without informing my parents, and the selection was monitored by Sreekumar sir and late Shabeena Jacob madam. They liked the way I was playing and selected me to the district team,” she explained.

“Even then I need to take two buses to reach the ground. Shabeena mam or Aaron Jacob sir would give me the bus fare.

“Aaron sir used to take me for orange juice after training because he wanted me to eat something after rigorous training. Sometimes, my dad would drop me in his autorickshaw.” But those early struggles came to fruition when Asha, the first Indian women to take a fifer in WPL, produced a game-changing effort against Warriorz ahead of accomplished bowlers such as Renuka Singh, Elysse Perry and Sophie Molineux.

“I called up my parents. They were very happy. They don’t know much about cricket. They just asked me if I ate and slept well. In fact, they recharged the cable TV connection at our home only yesterday to watch me,” she said in a stuttering voice.

Of course, the five-wicket haul has left her a contented and emotional person.

“I was very emotional when I got that Player-of-the-Match award (on Saturday night) because a lot of hard work has been done. I travelled to many places, worked on my fitness and bowling in the last one year.

“I attended the RCB pre-season camp specifically for improving my fitness because those alignments do not come easy. So, I was emotional when some deserved recognition finally came my way.” In that context, Asha, who trained with former India leg-spinner L Sivaramakrishnan, said WPL has been a boon for domestic players like her.

“WPL has not only changed my life but it has changed the lives of several other players, especially the domestic players. It has taught us to dream, otherwise, how one can play with players like Elysse Perry, Smriti Mandhana and Sophie Devine. I had never thought that. But now everybody can dream,” she said.

Now, she has started seeing another dream: wearing the blue jersey of Team India.

Source: PTI News


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