From Wayanad’s paddy fields to Delhi Capitals: Adivasi girl Minnu Mani is eyeing the big league

The all-rounder from the Kurichiya tribe in Kerala was picked up by the Delhi Capitals for ₹30 lakh at the auctions of the inaugural WPL.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Feb 23, 2023 | 9:30 AMUpdatedFeb 26, 2023 | 1:58 PM

'You ae looking at the future Indian captain," says coach as Kerala cricketer Minnu Mani to lead Indian Women 'A' T20 team

Every time Minnu Mani played a cricket tournament — however local and small — her parents would eagerly ask her if they would be able to watch her play on the television.

“I used to tell them no maa, no paa. It’s only possible when I play for the Indian women’s national team. They saw me play only in one tournament — organised by the Kerala State Cricket Association — that too on a mobile phone,” Minnu recollected, while speaking to South First.

WPL: A dream come true

However, now her folks in Edapaddi colony at Choyimoola village in Wayanad district, Kerala, are on cloud nine as their dream of watching their little girl play on TV will soon come true.

This is because the 23-year-old was picked up by Delhi Capitals (DC) for ₹30 lakh at the auctions of the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL) on 14 February in Mumbai.

“I first called my mom, dad and grandmother. They were all very happy and shocked at the same time, as nobody expected this,” Minnu, who had a base price of ₹10 lakh, told South First.

The WPL comes 15 years after the inception of the Indian Premier League (IPL) — the men’s T20 franchise cricket league.

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‘Lost all hope during WPL auction’

Minnu Mani batting

Minnu Mani batting. (Supplied)

When several big names were going unsold at the auction, Minnu began losing hope of even being picked up by any of the five teams of the new cricket league.

“I was curious before the auction. But after watching many main Indian players remaining unsold, I was sure that I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting picked,” the Kerala cricketer recollected.

Today, Minnu — a left-handed batter and right-arm off-spinner — is an all-rounder in the star-studded Delhi Capitals team.

“I feel very valuable and proud that DC picked me up. My Kerala teammates came to my room and congratulated me,” said Minnu when we spoke to her in Hyderabad, where she has been playing for South Zone in the Senior Women’s Inter-Zonal One-Day tournament.

If you’re wondering whether Minnu had a specific franchise in mind to play for, she didn’t. “As there are only five teams, I was okay with any team that picked me up. I just want to play and learn from experienced players.”

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From the Kurichiya tribe to WPL

Minnu Mani with her father and grand mother

Minnu with her father and grandmother. (Supplied)

As with several women cricketers in the country, the journey hasn’t been easy for Minnu. She belongs to the Kurichiya tribe, which is famous for its bow and arrow skills.

She started playing cricket seriously at the age of 13, when she was a Class 8 student at the Government High School in Edapaddi.

“Before that, I used to play with the boys near my house. Many girls were shy to play cricket, but I was not. Our village has a lot of paddy fields so we used to play there,” reminisced Minnu, whose father CK Mani is a daily-wager and mother Vasantha is a homemaker.

Looking at her talent, her physical education teacher and Wayanad district coach at the school, Elsamma Baby, took her to participate in the selection trials of the Wayanad District Under-13 team.

Calling Mani’s WPL selection the result of her dedication and participation in sports even while studying, Government Vocational Higher Secondary School Mananthavady teacher Elsamma KM said that she wishes that Mani would reach greater heights.

Cricketer Minnu Mani during a fielding session

Minnu Mani during a fielding session. (Supplied)

“After my daughter (Anu Mol Baby) suggested making a women’s cricket team for Wayanad, I selected those interested in playing crickets among my athletics students. My old student Shanavaz was with me teaching cricket to the children,” she told South First.

“After Elsamma called me when I first saw Minnu swinging her bat with her left hand, I felt the joy that any coach experiences on seeing a talent that can be improved,” Shanavas, a cricket coach in Wayanad, told South First.

“After deciding to go to KCA academy, I directly called Machan sir and told him about Minnu to be taken to the state team selection. We thought we wouldn’t get permission. After half an hour, he called me back informing us that we had permission to go for the state team selection,” he said.

“Earlier, my parents were not supportive. They discouraged me and told me that cricket is a man’s game and that girls can’t do much. But after I got selected for the trials, their mindset changed and they began supporting me,” Minnu recalled fondly.

The rise of Minnu Mani

Minnu Mani KCA

Minnu at KCA Academy. (Supplied)

After being selected to the Under-13 district team, Minnu made her way into the junior girls’ state camp at the KCA Academy in Thodupuzha.

“The coaches that came from Wayanad district and secretary Nazir Machan sir helped me a lot. It’s because of them that I got good practice and I availed KCA Academy’s facilities,” said Minnu.

She graduated from the Kerala Under-16 team when she was 15 and made it to the Under-19 team. Within a year, she was in the senior state team.

Over the years, she has been an integral part of the Kerala women’s team and has played for India ‘A’ and India Blue in the Challenger Trophy.

“Her throws, which were very accurate, impressed me when I saw her playing for the Kerala U-16 team. After a disappointing show in the Challengers trophy, she changed her approach and her strike rate also went up,” BCCI B-level coach Anu Ashok told South First.

Regarding her as the fittest player in their team then, Anu, who knows Minnu for a decade now, added, “She never used to miss a single practice session for any reason, including injury.”

Minnu Mani: ‘Lots of room for improvement’

Strangely, Minnu does not have a single cricket idol. However, she does admire the game of former World Cup-winning Indian captain MS Dhoni and current Indian women’s team player Smriti Mandhana.

“The way both of them finish a game is something I want to do too,” she said.

Minnu Mani after winning a medal

Minnu Mani after winning a medal

While Minnu is happy that she has come this far, she is still critical of her performance and skill. “I need to improve more mentally, understand how to build an innings, how to take the game to an end,” she said.

A top-order batswoman, Minnu is ready to feature at any position the team needs.

Critiquing her skills as a spinner, she stressed the need to improve her economy rate, “Instead of just taking wickets, I need to set the field according to the batswomen.”

She is excited to share a dressing room with several Indian and foreign players whom she had only seen on TV before, including India’s Jemimah Rodrigues and Shafali Verma, and Australia’s Meg Lanning.

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The financial blessing

Minnu was auctioned off for ₹30 lakh at the WPL. While a part of that will go towards fulfilling some of her cricketing needs, she intends to use the rest to help her parents financially.

“I will buy new equipment like a bat and shoes. I also need to help my parents who used to borrow money for my cricketing needs,” said Minnu, who is also a student of BA Sociology at Annamalai University in Kozhikode.

Minnu Mani with her mother and sister

Minnu with her mother and sister. (Supplied)

For someone, who used to travel long hours while changing four buses to reach the practice ground (KCA Stadium in Krishnagiri), Minnu also plans to buy a scooter.

“The distance from my house to the stadium takes a long time to cover. I used to wake up at 4 am, help my mother get food ready, leave by 6-6.30 am, and reach the ground at 9.30 am,” Minnu said.

BCCI level one coach working under KCA, Jestin Fernandez, pointed out to South First the humility of Minnu and her eagerness to achieve more.

“That attracted me when I first met her. Whatever she does, she puts in her 100 percent effort, including travelling 100 kilometres daily for practice. We won a lot of matches due to her fielding. I hope more Kerala players get inspired by her and reach the top level,” said the coach.

For budding women cricketers of Wayanad and Kerala, Minnu has a message.

“I hope WPL will motivate more girls to play cricket professionally. The level of women’s cricket will definitely go up and Kerala needs that. These budding players just need to stay focused, believe in their passion, and go for it.”