Annesha Ghosh is a freelance sports journalist. @ghosh_annesha
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Where would Indian women's cricket be without farsighted fathers?
Dorai Raj made a cricket icon out of a sleepy girl. Harmander Singh Bhullar raised his firstborn "like a son" and she went on to take India into the World Cup final with an epochal 171 not out. Shriniwas Mandhana was so smitten by left-hander batters that he ensured his naturally right-handed daughter morphed into one of the game's most prolific left-hand openers. Ivan Rodrigues and Sanjeev Verma pushed against all sorts of obstacles to turn the first female child in their respective families into teen debutants for India.
The latest in the list of enterprising Indian dads making precocious international cricketers out of their daughters is GV Rami Reddy. G Trisha, his only child, considers him "the single biggest reason" why she has made it to the squad of 15 to represent India at the inaugural Under-19 Women's World Cup, which kicks off in South Africa tomorrow.
"I came to know cricket through my dad at a time when I could barely tell what cricket was," Trisha, 17, says of her early initiation into the sport as a two-year-old. "Maybe it's only as I grow older that I'll be able to fully appreciate my dad's contribution in my life and cricket, all the sacrifices he's made for me, the direction he's given my life."
A batting allrounder who bowls legspin, Trisha has been considered a prodigy on the domestic circuit for as long as she has played the game at the competitive level. At seven she took part in the Telangana state's district senior women's meet and featured in the U-19 girls competition organised by the School Games Federation of India a year later.
When only a few months shy of nine, she played for Hyderabad's U-16 side in the inter-state tournament in 2014-15. The following season she broke into the state U-23 side and not long after that, made her debuts for the Hyderabad and South Zone U-19s.
The last time a young female cricketer turned heads in Hyderabad cricketing circles with this kind of precocity, she ended up being the leading run-scorer in the women's international game. "Mithali Raj - what do I tell about her?" says Trisha. "Growing up in Hyderabad and training at the same coaching centre - St John's Cricket Academy - as her are the obvious commonalities we share. But to get anywhere close to being a cricketer like her, I know I will have to keep working hard.
"I have seen her practise at the academy since my father enrolled me there as a seven-year-old. Like for many others, she's been a role model for me too, and I have been quite lucky to get advice from her whenever she visits the academy.
"Better still, call it a coincidence or something else, Mithali di was one of the batters I ended up bowling to on my senior debut for Hyderabad, against Railways."
In that tournament, the 2017-18 senior women's inter-state T20 competition, Trisha featured primarily as a bowler. Her consistency apart, that she could open both the batting and bowling for her age-group sides played a part in fast-tracking her into top-flight domestic cricket.
"It's majorly down to my dad's planning," says Trisha, laughing, when asked about what making her senior debut a few weeks after her 13th birthday felt like. "Sure, me gradually taking a liking to the sport did help but had he not got me into the game early, I wouldn't have been able to have this much domestic cricket under my belt already."
"I think he has everything sorted in his head since I started playing the sport, with a plastic bat and ball, or even before that."
A former fitness trainer with the ITC conglomerate in Bhadrachalam, a small town in south-east Telangana, Reddy, who is now 52, quit his job of more than a decade and moved to East Marredpally, a residential suburb of Secunderabad in 2013.
"The only motive was to give Trisha better opportunities to train and play proper cricket," he says. "To make a world-class cricketer from a country of more than 1.30 crore population requires effort and early investment, and that's what I have tried to do. Bhadrachalam didn't have quality facilities or cricket grounds, so I had to risk what was a settled life for me and my family until then."
A former U-16 national-level hockey player from Andhra Pradesh in the early 1980s, Reddy felt being short-statured put him at a disadvantage to pursue a career in one of his other favourite sports, tennis.
"I didn't have the genes [of height], but had the passion, so when I got married, I made up my mind that girl or boy, I will provide everything my child needs to play cricket for India. It's a sport where, like football, you can excel even if you are short."
Reddy, true to his words, was on the job soon after Trisha was born in 2005, the year India Women made their first appearance in a World Cup final. That tournament was played in South Africa, where she is now set to play in the U-19 World Cup.
"In that era, women's cricket was fairly unknown in our country - a pity if you think of the heights the likes of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami were taking Indian cricket to at the time," reflects Reddy. "My understanding was that most kids in India typically start playing cricket at age six or seven. I needed to do something extra to give my daughter an edge."
For starters, he would put on cricket on the television at home and in the gyms of the ITC facilities where he worked, while his wife, G Madhavi, breastfed infant Trisha. Reddy affectionately recalls how the 18-month-old would be drawn to the luminescence of the screen. "Those little eyes, the light brightening up her tiny face as she lay in her mother's lap… there was something special about those moments. Her first brush with cricket, really."
By her second birthday Trisha had a plastic bat in hand and would knock plastic balls at public parks in Bhadrachalam. When she was three, Reddy introduced her to practising with the tennis ball, and at four, she would frequently do batting drills in the corridors of the gyms he worked in. The number of balls Reddy would throw at her daily also increased over time: from 100 to 200 and then 300.
"For those many knockings, the only trade-off was that Dad had to buy me something I liked," Trisha says. "Mostly, it would be crayons or drawing books or any related stationery, because I have always enjoyed drawing. It's gone from being one of my favourite pastimes as a kid, besides swimming, to something that now helps me unwind, switch off from cricket."
Reddy then had a cement pitch laid at a local ground in Bhadrachalam. One of his gym instructors took up coaching duties with Trisha in the evenings, and Reddy looked after her practice in the morning. Each session lasted nearly two hours, with an hour thrown in to work on her fitness too. In all, since the time she was around four, Trisha devoted some six hours a day to jogging, swimming, learning to bat, field and bowl medium pace.
"It was after we moved to Secunderabad," Reddy says, "that coaches John Manoj and Sreenu sir at St John's suggested she become a spinner. "Trisha was seven at the time, and she was making steady progress as an opening batter. The coaches felt switching to spin could keep her from picking up injuries common to pace bowlers."
Her action, somewhat roundarm, has evolved naturally, says Reddy; he thinks it's a bit like the Afghanistan wristspinner Rashid Khan's. Among the coaches who have worked with Trisha to date, he reserves special thanks for R Sridhar, the former India men's fielding coach, who was part of the backroom staff at St John's, and former India spinner Nooshin Al Khadeer, the India U-19 coach at the World Cup, who held coaching positions at Hyderabad during Trisha's debuts across all domestic teams.
"Their guidance has been indispensable to Trisha's journey," he says. "Among other important advice, they encouraged her to retain her style of bowling when most felt it 'looked unnatural.'"
In October 2018, Trisha she was selected along with many India internationals in the National Cricket Academy's spin-bowling camp in Baroda under Raj Kumar Sharma, who coached Virat Kohli when he was young.
In the lead-up to the U-19 T20 World Cup, though, it's her primary skill, batting, that has remained the focus within her all-round proficiency. She made the starting XI in all the preparatory series the India U-19s have played since November: the quadrangular series in Visakhapatnam, the bilateral assignment against a New Zealand Development side in Mumbai, and the away series against South Africa.
India won them all, and Trisha says she enjoyed the experience of batting at No. 3. "The New Zealand series was our first bilateral series, and being an opener, coming at one-down brought me new learnings about my batting and adaptability."
In the T20 World Cup warm-ups, she made a five-ball 2 and 36-ball 44 batting at No. 3, against Australia and Bangladesh respectively.
Reddy says Trisha's solidity of technique, as well as her along-the-ground strokes and fitness to play long innings, could see her do well at No. 3.
"Her coaches and I appreciate she's only starting to get strong, so we have focused on her lofted strokes only after she turned 16," he says. "Going for big shots when she lacked the power could have led to low returns. Without the runs, making the World Cup squad would have been unlikely."
Reddy says he goes over every performance of Trisha's and carefully oversees her diet. To give his undivided attention to her cricket, he has quit his job and supports his family with the proceeds from the sale and lease of some ancestral land in Bhadrachalam.
"Every month I use 20-30 new balls for her, and send her to special fitness and group coaching, give good nutrition involving chicken and fish, quinoa, dragon fruit, kiwi, blueberries, apples…" he says. "Cricket is an expensive sport but I am doing all I can."
It takes a village to raise a child, they say. But if Reddy's efforts come to fruition, and a shared dream of his and Trisha's becomes a reality, by the end of this month he might be remembered as the father who created a World Cup winner for India from scratch. It will be a first in the history of women's cricket in the country.