Minnu Mani overcame adversity

How Minnu Mani triumphed against all odds to leave her imprint in the WPL

Her family’s home was ruined by the 2018 Kerala floods, but the league has since improved her situation.

When Minnu Mani first began playing cricket, she was a hitter. At the age of 15, she made her senior team debut for Kerala. But as she advanced through the ranks, she learned how beneficial it is to have a second skill. She therefore began to focus on her bowling at the Under-19 camps. She had no idea that her bowling all-around skills would help her break into the Indian squad and the WPL.

Mani, who identified herself as an all-rounder, was bid on by the Delhi Capitals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first-ever WPL auction. Prior to the Capitals selecting her, RCB increased her base price of INR 10 lakh to INR 30 lakh (about US $36,192). It didn’t hurt that the Capitals’ fielding coach, Biju George, who has coached Kerala, was at the auction table. Mani, who bats left-handed and bowls off-spin, bowled just three overs in the WPL 2023 season. She only had three appearances overall, and she batted in two games.

Following the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup, Mani was called up for the first time in T20I history for the trip to Bangladesh. This was India’s first international assignment. She didn’t receive many opportunities to bat, but she did end the three-match series with five wickets after making her debut in the first Twenty20 International.

The first lady from Kerala to represent India in sports was Mani. In honour of her, the main intersection in the Wayanad district municipality of Mananthavady was named in her honour.

She entered the WPL 2024 after helping Kerala win the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy and taking seven wickets in eight matches. But she was left out of the starting XI after two wicketless innings in the opening three games. Which is when Meg Lanning, the captain of the Capitals, arrived to assist her.

Mani told ESPNcricinfo, “Meg Lanning came to me and helped me with my bowling,” following the Capitals’ second consecutive year of guaranteed passage to the WPL final. She gave me direction while I followed my spot-bowling practices. She instructed me to land the ball in the vicinity while keeping her cap in place. She instructed me to carry out plans during those sessions and gave me an explanation of what to expect from me in a match scenario. That increased my believe in myself, my confidence, everything.”

When Mani was reinstated for the Capitals’ last league game against the Gujarat Giants, she recorded her first WPL wickets. She threw one up and used it to tear apart Ashleigh Gardner’s defence and topple her. She bowled a faster over, getting Phoebe Litchfield caught at mid-on, the ball after it had been smashed for a six. With two overs, nine runs, and two wickets, the Giants’ batting collapsed, and the Capitals completed their task.

“After taking my first WPL wicket, I was so happy because I did not do well when I got chances early on, and was then sitting out for a few games,” Mani recounts. “Lanning and coach Lisa Keightley were constantly working on my bowling, and so in the game against Giants, I tried to do what we worked on, and was delighted to get the result.”

Mani is a member of the Kurichiya tribe, where girls aren’t often permitted to play with boys or leave the house. Her physical education instructor at school, Elasamma Baby, was the one who initially saw her aptitude and signed her up for the Wayanad District Cricket Association. Mani had only ever played in the paddy fields with her relatives up until that point. She diligently practiced under the pretence of “extra classes” before and after school, including on Sundays. It was only after she was chosen for the Wayanad district that her parents learned about it.

Mani had to travel 1.5 hours to Krishnagiri for coaching because her hometown of Mananthavady lacked training facilities. To get to the stadium, she had to transfer buses four times. Her talent was also noticed by the Kerala Cricket Association secretary and coaches there, who encouraged her to enrol in the hostel-equipped Kerala Cricket Academy. That made it possible for her to balance her education and cricket.

Mani managed the cricket, but he was still having problems off the pitch. similar to the 2018 Kerala floods. A landslip destroyed the house her family was building, but it had no effect on her cricket because the Wayanad District Cricket Association had arranged for her to stay in the stadium rather than travel. That’s when WPL improved her life.

“Since meeting Meg Lanning, there has been a discernible improvement in performance. She constantly keeps things easy and puts her players at ease, both during practice and in games.

Minnu Mani on being captain of the Delhi Capitals

“We can’t even imagine it, so for us, it’s a huge amount,” Mani remarks of her INR 30 lakh contract. “My parents had built the house with a bank loan.” However, a landslip destroyed it after the basement was constructed. I also received my match costs for state games after the WPL, and I represented India in sports. My parents were somewhat shocked to hear that I was making a little more money than I had been the previous year, as they had only ever dreamed of such sums. We paid off the obligations with the money, and now that we have less financial anxiety because of the WPL.”

Mani’s communication abilities and her cricket game both improved as a result of the WPL. Growing up, she had watched Lanning lead and perform admirably for Australia. Mani was silent on the Capitals’ setup.

I was having some language issues, so I wasn’t sharing anything with people or speaking clearly. I feel so much more at ease and better this year, and my [English] language skills have also increased. Thus, I am able to communicate with all of the international players,” she smiles.

“I’m stepping outside of my [comfort] zone and learning more about myself and my game at the same time. Other than that, after meeting Lanning, there has been a change in performance. She constantly maintains things simple and ensures that her players are at ease, both during practice and in the actual game. She used to advise us to keep things simple and concentrate on the process rather than overthinking things or making things more complicated.”

The Capitals have another chance to win the WPL after failing in their first season. Mani’s parents will be watching her team play on TV, whether or not she is in the starting lineup. And that is a far way from the times she had to keep her love of cricket a secret from them.