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EXCLUSIVE: “I Had Waited For This Moment, My Entire Life” – Asha Sobhana On Her Maiden India Call-Up

The cricketing journey of Asha Sobhana has reached a pinnacle as she received her maiden call-up to represent the Indian National Team – an achievement that embodies years of dedication, perseverance, and unwavering passion for the sport. For Asha, this moment is not merely a culmination of her individual efforts, but a testament to the countless hours spent honing her craft, the sacrifices made along the way, and the unwavering support of her family, coaches, and teammates.

As she prepares to don the iconic blue jersey and step onto the international stage, Asha’s heart swells with pride and anticipation, knowing that she carries the hopes and dreams of a nation with her. This call-up is more than just a milestone in her career; it’s a reflection of the power of chasing one’s dreams against all odds and a reminder that with perseverance and determination, anything is possible.

But Asha’s journey to the Indian national cricket team was punctuated by a moment of disbelief, followed by overwhelming joy. Recounting the day she received the news of her maiden call-up, Asha paints a vivid picture of raw emotion and heartfelt gratitude.

“I came back from the Railway camp. I was in the South-End Railway Camp in Hyderabad. I came back to my home. I heard the news. I didn’t know how to react, I was kind of numb. I kept myself quiet for two minutes. I drank some water. Then I realized it was happening. It is really happening. Then I called my parents, my coach, my brother, my seniors and my close ones. I called a couple of my friends, some of them were my teammates. We celebrated by cutting some small cake and we enjoyed that night. That is a very simple but was a really happy moment,” Asha Sobhana shared in an EXCLUSIVE interview with Women’s CricInsight.

In the cacophony of her dreams, Asha Sobhana found the melody of her destiny. A tale spun not just with threads of passion but also with the resilience of a soul unyielding to the sands of time. As she readies herself for the grand stage of international cricket with the call-up to Team India, Asha reminisces, her eyes gleaming with the reflection of her journey.

Asha’s smile lit up the room like the first light of dawn after a long night. “Of course, I am really excited to play in Bangladesh. And I am very happy, I have waited for this moment, my entire life. And finally getting it. This is the moment!” she replied, her voice a symphony of excitement and gratitude.

From the outset, it was clear that Asha Sobhana possessed a gift that set her apart on the cricket field. Born with an innate talent for leg spin bowling, her journey in the sport was destined to be extraordinary from the very beginning.

The trajectory of Asha’s career, much like her leg-spin deliveries, was not a straight line but a graceful arc bending towards destiny. “I was always a leg spinner. Whenever I bowl a ball, or even if I bowl with the seam, it would go like this, my action would go like this,” she explained, her hands mimicking the elegant dance of her wrist.

ALSO READ: Asha Sobhana – WPL’s First Ever Indian Bowler Who Claimed A Fifer – Here Is All You Need To Know

She further added, “So I was always a leg spinner. It took my first coach, Srikumar Sir, to tell me I had to wait for maybe two to three years to be told to bowl leg spin. So that is that was the turning point of my life, the first turning point of my life, where my first coach told me.”

As a young girl honing her skills under the watchful eye of her first coach, Srikumar Sir, Asha’s natural ability to deliver mesmerizing leg breaks became apparent. With a wrist action that seemed almost effortless, she effortlessly spun the ball with precision and finesse. “I was tired of the practice and I was just standing and delivering. So I am very experienced in bowling leg spinner tennis ball and paper ball.” And thus, under the guidance of her mentor, Srikumar Sir, Asha embraced her true calling.

“So my Srikumar Sir came and told me, what are you doing? I said, sir, I am tired. So I’m just standing and delivering. Okay, from today on, you bowl like this only. And I was really happy. I don’t have to run. So I started bowling leg spin. That’s how everything started”, she reminisced.

For Asha, leg spin wasn’t just a technique to be learned; it was a part of her DNA, a fundamental aspect of her cricketing identity that would shape her career in ways she could never have imagined.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Childhood dreams often find solace in the figures we idolise, and for Asha, it was none other than the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.

“As a child, it was always Sachin Tendulkar. You know, as a 90s kid, you would see Sachin Tendulkar everywhere you go, every restaurant you go, every shop you go, every notebook you open, Sachin Tendulkar stickers everywhere. So it was, of course, it was Sachin Tendulkar. Who was my inspiration? SRT, forever, that is something that we cannot change from childhood,” she reminisced, a nostalgic glint in her eyes.

But cricket, for Asha, was not merely a game; it was a way of life. “I love cricket. Cricket is my passion. It is my profession, my everything,” she admitted, her voice brimming with fervour.

Yet, beyond the cricketing greens, Asha’s heartbeat for all forms of sport, from football to mixed martial arts, she found solace in the rhythm of athleticism.

“But I love watching all of the games as well. I follow a lot of football. I’d like to play whenever I find some time I watch mixed martial arts. I was home and was watching a boxing game. I watch hockey games, I watch, I follow most of the games I like to watch, you know, especially football.”

Asha Sobhana is an ardent Arsenal fan and mimics an iconic celebration [Image: Getty]
Asha Sobhana is an ardent Arsenal fan and mimics an iconic celebration [Image: Getty]
The journey from debutante to seasoned player was not without its challenges. At the tender age of 14, Asha found herself amidst stalwarts, her talent recognized but her mettle untested.

“A lot of credit goes to my first coach– Srikumar Sir, my mentor, Shabina Ma’am and all my seniors at that time- [Velayudhan] Villasini Chechi (Chechi means sister), she was the captain of the Kerala team and I was coming into Kerala team. She was a star player for Kerala. She was one of the biggest names in South India at that time and still is. So, of course, I had an opportunity to watch them play,” Asha Sobhana again shared.

She also said, “That was the first time I’d seen women’s cricket and one of the senior players, I think she, due to some personal reasons, didn’t come for the tournament. So all the seniors decided that let’s take this junior player, let her learn. So that is a decision taken by the senior players in management during that time. It takes courage to take a 13-year-old with a senior team,” she acknowledged, her gratitude palpable for those who paved her path.

While she did not get an opportunity to play in matches then, she acknowledged, “I had an opportunity to watch games, still that time I didn’t know women’s cricket, how it’s played at state games and all. So it was really good. I mean, it was a very good atmosphere with my senior players. They were really friendly and they helped me come this far. So have the same circle if you, if you believe, I have the same circle from my 14 years till now. They are the people I always talk about.”

ALSO READ: BAN vs IND: Asha Sobhana, Sajana Sajeevan Earn Maiden India Call-up For The Bangladesh Series

Asha Sobhana has toiled hard in the domestic circuit for decades [Image: BCCI]
Asha Sobhana has toiled hard in the domestic circuit for decades [Image: BCCI]
In the domestic cricket circuit, Asha has traversed from her home state Kerala to Railways, and then Pondicherry– Asha’s journey mirrored the undulating waves of determination.

“I started from my home, Kerala and I played for them. Then I went to Railways since I was working for the Railways and I was picked up by them to play. That was some experience, you know, I will cherish forever because it is a day-to-day challenge for me,” Asha Sobhana further shared.

She further noted, “You have somebody like 15 to 16 Indian players and you have two or three domestic players. So it was a day-to-day challenge for me to be in the 11, and to compete with everyone. And to be in the 11, that is a good challenge. I mean, it’s not anything like a negative challenge or something. It was a healthy competition among the players, which is always required as a team. So it was a really good experience. That made me a better person. Mostly that made me stronger, both mentally and physically,” she confessed, her voice tinged with the echoes of battles fought and won.

When she was dropped from the Railways, Asha thought to herself that her cricketing journey was over and then a miracle happened.

“I thought, I don’t know if there is any second chance for me in cricket. So I went to commentary. I was doing commentary in Pondicherry. Then my Under-19 Indian camp friend, Shweta Mishra, was very close to me. And I met my friend after a long time till she said, ‘Why don’t you come and play for Pondicherry? Let’s enjoy cricket. We all started playing cricket for the love of the game. That’s all. So let’s do that. Don’t think about anything else.’”

However, fate had a different plan in store for Asha—something beyond her wildest dreams.

“She [Shweta Mishra] encouraged me actually. She also played a major role in my life to come this far. If she hadn’t encouraged me at that point of time at my lowest, you know, I would not have been here sitting here and talking. So, I am grateful to so many people who came into my life at Pondicherry. Winning T20 matches against a couple of the good teams in the domestic like Mumbai is no mean feat. I highlighted Mumbai because they are a very good team. And we beat Karnataka this time in the one-dayers where I took five wickets and we lost one match by like two runs that is the reason we didn’t qualify otherwise Pondicherry would have qualified for the first time,” Asha Sobhana expressed.

In her second innings at Pondicherry, she left no stone unturned, “I made sure that I was making some impact wherever I was going. And for me, the most important thing is the win. I don’t mind from where am I playing, but the win is something that I always look into. I don’t mind if I score a zero or take no wickets, but if I can put my 100 per cent and make the team win, that is everything to me– to win. I would give my body underlying and that is my character once I go, I just go. So that is how it’s going and that is how it’s going on.”

It was after her performance at Pondicherry that the Royal Challenger Bengaluru scouts picked her as a star to watch out for and nabbed her in the first-season auctions. But the season turned out to be lukewarm as the leggie scalped only 5 wickets and that’s when the next important cog in her story comes to the fore.

Asha Sobhana had a lukewarm WPL 2023 but impressed everyone [Image: Getty]
Asha Sobhana had a lukewarm WPL 2023 but impressed everyone [Image: Getty]
Amidst the trials and triumphs, one figure stood tall as a beacon of guidance – L. Sivaramakrishnan. The former India cricketer impressed with Asha’s performances and skillset offered free coaching and guided her. Speaking more about it, she said, “Leg spin is a very difficult skill set and he is someone who mastered it,” she recounted, her admiration evident.

“He’s a very brilliant person. But also he’s a brilliant leg spinner. I was so lucky, to be under him for three days, that is something those three days, we really worked hard. We discussed a lot of bowling. I mean, we discussed for hours and hours about Leg spin. It was more of talking.”

ALSO READ: Asha Sobhana Claims A Fifer As RCB Start the Campaign With A Thrilling Win Over UP Warriorz

Under his tutelage, Asha honed her craft, each conversation a stepping stone towards excellence. “But it was a lot of talking about that really helped me. Yeah, the visualization, all that stuff. He spoke to me, and he taught me skills that really helped. I am always grateful to him also for that, because not everybody, notices players and offers free coaching. Being a legend himself, that is a great thing from Laxman Sir. That really helped me!”

“The most important thing is that they treat everybody the same” Asha Sobhana on her maiden India call-up

The next season with RCB was nothing short of a fairy tale as the franchise not only won the championship but Asha too was a chief architect with 12 wickets in the season, each match a testament to her prowess.

“The RCB management always keeps us very cool. It is a very good atmosphere. We always discussed about that team atmosphere. We never talked about winning a trophy or something. We always wanted to stick together and do everything together. That is what we focused on and the result was there,” she reflected, her words painting a picture of camaraderie and determination.

Asha Sobhana with her skipper Smriti Mandhana who was a beacon of support [Image: Getty]
Asha Sobhana with her skipper Smriti Mandhana who was a beacon of support [Image: Getty]
Smriti Mandhana, her skipper at RCB also has a massive role to play in Asha’s journey and echoing a sentiment of appreciation for her skipper, Asha Sobhana said, “Smriti was very cool. She is someone with whom we can just go and talk about things. She is not someone who neglects things if we say something. That really helped me and the kind of faith, the management, the scout, the coaches, the captain had in me. And all of the players, of course, that was something. Backing a domestic player after crossing 32 years, takes a lot of courage, to be frank. So the credit goes to them.”

Reflecting on her experience of sharing the RCB dressing room with cricketing legends, Asha expressed her awe and gratitude.

“The most important thing is that they treat everybody the same. Even our Indian stars like Smriti [Mandhana], Renuka [Singh Thakur], Richa [Ghosh], Ellyse [Perry], Sophie [Devine], Sophie [Molinuex], Kate Cross, Nadine [de Klerk] – everybody treats everybody the same. So that is what made our team special! It was like a very happy atmosphere. Everybody was really happy when we met each other. That is kind of a team atmosphere we had. I think that is the main reason that affected in winning matches,” she shared.

Asha Sobhana was a crucial cog for RCB [Image: Getty]
Asha Sobhana was a crucial cog for RCB [Image: Getty]
Yet, it was not just the victories that defined Asha’s journey, but the moments of individual brilliance. It was in the match versus UP Warriorz that she picked a five-wicket haul.

“It was a really good match actually. I really want to win the match because that was our first match in Chinaswamy. So we all, just not just me, we all wanted to win that match. I am so happy that it happened. We never thought of this taking 5 wickets or something.”

Reflecting more, she added, “But the way I practised in the nets and tested my skills in a couple of practice games and everything, I knew that I was going to bowl in the right areas. And then, you know, off-season and I really worked hard with my coach Aaron George Thomas on the variations. That really helped me and a lot of variations, a lot of practice being done, a lot of hard work being done during the off-season which showcased something good in the WPL.”

It was in the latter stages of RCB’s campaign that Asha Sobhana came to the forefront with yet another remarkable performance. She defended 12 runs off the final over taking RCB to the finals. Speaking more about it, she said, “The wicket was turning actually, for me it was turning. When the wicket is turning, I will be really confident. And when you have the fire inside, winning the matches for RCB, especially, the franchise, they deserve to play finals such a big team.” 

She further observed, “I’m not just talking about the fun days, but the team, see, how big a team is that? Ellyse Perry, Smriti Mandhana, and our lovely fans– it was for them. Everything was in my mind. You know, we have to win for RCB. That was only in my mind. So I am so happy that it happened. And I knew that wicket was turning and it was, I knew that it was not, it is not going to be easy for batters. But of course, they were good, they were good batters, and they could have hit me. But luckily on that particular day, they couldn’t,” she narrated, her voice echoing the thrill of defending 12 runs in the Eliminator.”

In a climate where T20s proving to be a challenge for bowlers, Asha had a simple formula. She said, “I would love to stick to my basics. I am always, someone who likes to bowl my stock deliveries and that is my strength. I would go with my strength and if required, of course, I would go with my variation.”

Asha will remember WPL 2024 fondly [Image: Getty]
Asha will remember WPL 2024 fondly [Image: Getty]
Looking at the discourse of how the Women’s Premier League has impacted Indian cricket and her own skills, Asha Sobhana takes a reflective look and says, “So many girls took up cricket. I can see that where I live in Hyderabad. so many kids– I see them wherever I go playing cricket. I mean, girls play cricket. I’m so happy to see, you know, like if you took 10 years ago, you wouldn’t see so many girls playing cricket. But now you see everywhere you go, you will have at least 10 to 15 girls playing cricket. So isn’t it something great to see? So many small kids like at the age of seven or eight, they don’t want to sit at home. And they’re going and playing cricket.”

Asha is setting the right example for youngsters [Image: Getty]
Asha is setting the right example for youngsters [Image: Getty]

ALSO READ: Asha Sobhana, RCB’s Latest Sensation – Will She Make It To The Indian Cricket Team Next?

She further remarked, “That is so nice to see wherever I go in Hyderabad in Kerala. We get to see so many small kids, and small girls playing cricket. That is very, you know, that is a very happy scene for me. That will really change and the perception of the parents also, that as a girl, you know, financial security and everything is very important. And their education studies and everything is very important. So if we take out cricket, it’s a profession and it is very big in India now. It’s very, very big in India now. So there is no challenge, you know, like to take up cricket because all state associations are supporting cricket, women’s cricket, especially. And everybody will have the summer camp, this upcoming camp, everything is there. So it is going going to be really big in future.”

For Asha Sobhana, seeing her fellow Kerala natives, Sajana and Minnu Mani, rise through the ranks of women’s cricket fills her with an indescribable sense of pride and joy. Reflecting on the same, she said, “In fact, while I was plying my trade for Kerala, it the first time we qualified in the T20 nationals and it was under my captaincy, that is when [Sajeevan] Sajana made her debut. So it is a great feeling, to see these players, especially Sajana and Minnu [Mani], when they were so young. I had an opportunity to see them playing and growing.”

Now, with Sajana earning her maiden call-up to the national team alongside Asha Sobhana for the Bangladesh series– the sense of camaraderie and shared accomplishment is palpable. The prospect of playing alongside Sajana, a fellow Kerala native and longtime friend, fills Asha with excitement and anticipation.

Asha Sobhana said, “I’m going to play with Sajana. That is a great feeling. I don’t know how to put it across into words, but it’s a great feeling seeing them playing and we both are going to play together. That’s a great feeling!”

As she prepares to don the Indian colours in Bangladesh, Asha’s dreams soar higher than ever before.

“I’m very excited. You know, this is my first tour. It’s going to be if I get a chance. That will be, you know, that is my dream moment. I heard what I heard that Bangladesh wickets are going to have the spinners. I was really happy to hear that. So let’s see. I am so excited and aiming, you know, our aim is India women never won a World Cup. It is our dream. You know, when we win our first World Cup, I want to be part of that team and I want to be playing in that team and winning World Cup for my India. That is my biggest dream right now,” Asha Sobhana declared, her voice resolute with determination.

Asha Sobhana was stellar for RCB in WPL 2024 [Image: Getty]
Asha Sobhana was stellar for RCB in WPL 2024 [Image: Getty]
For those who dare to dream, Asha’s message resonates like a clarion call.

“Nobody should give up, not just in cricket and whatever profession you’re doing, you just cannot just give up. That is the message I want to give everybody, you know, especially in cricket, there will be times you cannot score 100 every day. There will be seasons where you end up scoring only 100 runs in all five matches, but you just cannot give up. You just have to keep going. That is, you never know what’s there in the future for you,” she urged, her words carrying the weight of experience.

Speaking from her own experience, she added, “That is what my life taught me that. Because two years ago, I never thought I would be playing for India or I will be there in the RCB [set up]. So anything can happen to anybody. Anybody can reach anywhere! That is the message. It’s only with the hard work and patience and consistently doing something that you’re working on. If you cannot, you know, you cannot do something in a span of time, then again, stop, take a break, then, you know, continue to do the consistency of doing things for a number of years. That is what going to take you to a higher level.”

And amidst the jubilation of her call-up, Asha finds solace in the embrace of her loved ones. “I thanked my God, Jesus, for everything!” Asha Sobhana concluded, that her gratitude was a testament to the journey that brought her here.

As Asha Sobhana embarks on her maiden voyage with Team India, she carries with her not just the hopes of a nation but the dreams of every youngster and cricketer who dares to believe. For in her journey lies the promise that with perseverance and passion, every dream, no matter how distant, is within reach.

She also carries with her the lessons learned from every triumph and setback along the way. As she sets her sights on new challenges and adventures, one thing remains certain: her journey is far from over, and the best is yet to come!

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