Grind, determination, and goals can take you a long way, you just have to dream, and this female cricketer proves the same. Hailing from God’s own country, Kerala and representing Indian Railways – Asha’s journey is an inspiring one.
In an exclusive chat with Female Cricket, she talks about her love for the game, childhood, spirituality, dreams, Cristiano Ronaldo, her wish to watch an Arsenal game at the Emirates Stadium and how a Sachin Tendulkar knock changed her life.
Q> Tell us something about your journey, how did it all begin?
My father has 3 brothers and all of them have two sons each. I am the only girl in the family so I used to play gully cricket with them, I had no other option (laughs).
Eventually, my love for the game started growing too. I remember watching cricket from a very young age, I must be 7-8 years old. I used to watch any and every game that aired on the television. This one particular series, Sharjah Cup in 1998 – there was a match between India and Australia and my brother said “this is very important, we have to watch this game” and we went to the neighbour’s house to request them because we did not have our own TV. The way Sachin Tendulkar hit the bowlers in that game – that inning changed me.
It had a huge impact on me and made me dream – I thought “If women’s cricket exists I want to play it” – I did not know it even existed back then, all I knew is that I wanted to play!
Q> How did this dream actually lead you to try your hand at professional cricket?
I remember coming back from school one day and seeing a game of women’s cricket going on at the Doordarshan channel. My first thought was “wait, what, women’s cricket?”. I don’t know what feeling that was if it was shock or surprise but I was happy. I saw Neetu (David) di bowling, I remember that clearly. Shortly after this, I saw an advertisement in the newspaper that said trials were going to take place for the women’s district teams, I thought to myself that I had to go. I didn’t know if my family would support so I asked my school PT (Physical Training) teacher to drop me at the ground. She asked me if my parents knew, I simply ignored that question (laughs).
So only with my gully cricket experience, as a confident 12-and-a-half-year-old in a school uniform, I went for my trails and got selected! I then informed my family and they were all very supportive.
I did okay in the district games, I didn’t get to bat a lot but I bowled, during this time Shabina (Jacob) ma’am, who later became my mentor, she noticed by game and she thought I could go a long way and wanted me to be in the state team, so that I could get the first-hand experience and learn. She declared me as the “most promising youngster” and after this award, I got into the state team that travelled to Chennai in 2003 for the Senior Games. I didn’t play games, I used to run around giving water but that experience taught me a lot.
Q> Was it difficult to manage cricket with school?
Initially, very! But eventually, as my name started appearing in the newspapers, my school teachers got supportive. They used to tell me to practice and not worry about anything, ask me when I am getting the cup to school and all.
Q> You said Shabina ma’am was your mentor, anything you’d like to say about her?
When I started with cricket initially, I had nothing. No equipment, even BCCI didn’t really invest much in women’s cricket back then, the facilities weren’t that good. Shabina ma’am took care of me during this period. I am eternally grateful to her. She helped me travel, even fed me almost every day, she stayed close to the Medical College Ground where we practised, so that really helped a lot.
Q> Were you always a leg spinner or it changed along the way?
I used to bowl leg-spin in gully cricket, even with the tennis ball so when in nets I was too tired to take a run up and bowl pace, I used to stand at one place and continuously bowl leg-spin. Shreekumar sir noticed this and told me “You will only bowl leg-spin from today” and I was like okay. In fact, I was happy (laughs).
Q> Railways won the Senior Women’s T20 trophy this year, how was that experience playing with some of India Players?
It was a great experience. I will always cherish that moment. Being a part of the winning side feels great. It was all about team effort actually. We have very big names like Mithali (Raj) di, Punam Raut, Rajashree, Ekta Bisht playing for our side. They helped and mentored us, even when they were touring West indies! They kept a tab on our games and they used to message us saying what aspects we should focus on. All India players were on tour until the super league stages and without losing a game the team reached that stage, it was amazing, like I said, proper team effort.
Q> How has Kerela Cricket Association contributed to your journey, and anyone else you’d like to mention?
When I was 15, I was sent to Chennai by KCA to train at the MAC spin foundation where Shane Warne’s coach, Terry Jenner sir came to train us. There were 14 boys and I was the only girl. During the first couple of days, I was not so confident and trained with the U14 boys in the last, until Terry sir noticed me and called me to bowl in the big boys’ net. He then said “I want everyone to bowl like her”, that was huge! He later called me to his office room and said “Well bowled princess, you have a long way to go” that has still stuck with me as all his bowling tips have. I took my leg-spin very seriously after this and worked harder.
I would also like to credit a major part of my success to my husband Ashwin Vijay, who himself is a cricketer and has represented Hyderabad at U13, U19 and U25 levels. Without his support, I wouldn’t have reached anywhere. He has also guided me and gave me the motivation to keep my cricket going forward.
Bowling to players like Sanju Samson and Rohan Prem, and all other Ranji players at Medical College Ground helped me. Biju George sir was the coach at Medical College ground. I used to tell myself “These people bash Ranji bowlers like anything, I need to be my best self if I have to face them – they should either defend or leave my ball, not hit me” this helped me become better. The association in general has also been very supportive.
Q> In South Central Railways team, Mithali Raj is one of your teammates, anything you’ve learned from her that has stuck by you?
We feel like there’s some mountain on our heads but she’ll tell us it’s not a big deal and we can face it. That changes our mindsets too and helps us with the game.
Q> What do you enjoy doing off the field?
I love football so much! Cristiano Ronaldo is my favorite player and Arsenal is my favorite club. I don’t miss any Arsenal games at all, especially premier league and champion’s league. My dream is to watch an Arsenal match at their home ground, at the Emirates stadium. An Arsenal v Liverpool match – supporting the team with my fellow Gunners would be a dream come true! Also, now Ronaldo shifted to Juventus, so I have to watch those matches too! I haven’t stopped supporting Real Madrid, it is a really good club, but now Ronaldo’s with Juventus, and he’s an emotion (laughs). I like singing too and love listening to pop songs, Adam Levine and Eminem are my favourites.
Q> Who are your favourite cricketers, from both the men’s and women’s teams?
Sachin Tendulkar sir, I really dream of meeting him someday. Sehwag and MS Dhoni are my favourites too. And in women’s cricket Neetu David di and Harmanpreet Kaur, I really like her. Her aggression is something I admire. And Mithali di, of course.
While growing up, I remember the day I came from school and went to see my neighbour’s TV, India v Pakistan test match was going on, I saw Anil Kumble sir’s 10 wicket haul and that inspired me a lot. Also, Shane Warne’s bowling and Stuart MacGill, I liked his style. I admire these players.
Q> What has been your best cricketing memory so far?
Many matches that my all-round performance won for Kerala state, those definitely are my favorites. In 2017-18 challenger trophy, taking 3 wickets for India A in the final and getting Meg Lanning’s wicket in 2012, India A v Australia, that moment too, I cherish it.
Q>. Career-wise, what is your ultimate goal?
I never dream of just playing for India. I want to win matches for the nation, god willing. I am a very devotional person, I believe in Jesus and whatever happens, happens for a reason. So just hoping for the best.
Q> How do you think women’s cricket can be further promoted in India?
Now BCCI has taken a lot of steps, there are a lot of matches, in all age groups in all formats, there’s no lack of opportunity. One thing is, it’s high time they introduce a proper women’s IPL. If you see the state T20 games on the TV, the girls are hitting so well! There’s no lack of talent at all. Almost all the players are waiting for the WIPL.
Just talking to some people makes you feel inspired and more positive and Asha is definitely one of those. Team Female Cricket wishes her the best for the future.