Sajeevan Sajana, this budding talent which could be the next big thing in World Cricket has seen it all. She belongs to Kurichia community which is an Adivasi tribe. She was sent to a residential school at a very young age of 9. She did not have a good time there and used to stay alone sometimes and even cry for hours. However, the adversity made her very strong and self-reliant.
Sajana led Kerala’s under 23 women’s cricket team to the Twenty-20 Super league title which was held in Mumbai just a few months back. She led from front by picking up 14 wickets in the tournament and even scored an unbeaten hundred.
Daughter of an auto driver, this brave-heart took cricket only seriously when she was 17. Although a late starter, she has made remarkable progress in the sport. She attributes this to the love of the game of the people around her. She started her journey with plastic ball and a bat made of coconut madal. But a keen and quick learner, she worked on her skills and has worked wonders in the Kerala women’s domestic cricket circuit. She has led an Under-19 team to third place in Inter-State T20 competition as well and was Women’s Cricketer of the year for her state in 2015.
Here's all you need to know about her cricket journey through our INTERVIEW with Sajana Sajeevan.
1. What age did you start playing cricket?
I started playing domestic cricket the age of 19 (in my Higher Secondary Education)
2. Walk us through your initial (childhood) cricket days? Given the tight-financial situations, were your parents supportive of the idea?
In my childhood, it was awesome, because I was the only girl in the village who was so much inclined towards sports. So I used to play cricket, football, badminton etc. Most of the day I used to play cricket only with my cousins and friends. They all were boys and I was the only girl playing cricket back then.
Financially my family was very deprived. My mom was jobless, my father owned a small auto-rickshaw. So, dad was the only person working in the family. My mom and dad supported well, but from my dad’s family, I didn’t get much support because girls were very quiet and didn’t come out of their home. Always stayed inside the house and were never interested to play; especially with boys. Their parents never gave them permission to play any games with the boys. They were scared to leave girls alone. But my family, they never restricted me ; but one condition was there, wherever I go, I had to return home by 6pm. Everyday mom and dad would scold me because my grandma used to ask my parents “why are you giving permission to VAVA (my nickname at home) to go out and play with boys, see other girls they all stay at home. Tell her to stop playing with boys." There was always reluctancy from my grandmother’s side. My parents would sometimes scold me if I came late.
But I am still very happy because in the end, my parents decided to send me to a hostel. Actually that hostel (Government Model Residential School Pookkade) stay changed my life. From 6th standard to 10th standard, 5 years I spent in that hostel. I learnt a lot and became self-independent.
3. Did you play any sport other than cricket in your childhood? If yes, what made you stick to cricket?
Ans. Yes, during the hostel life, I learnt so many games like kho-kho, basketball, volleyball etc. Some individual games too like high jump, long jump, javelin throw etc. In our PT (Physical Training) period, we used to play cricket only. I played cricket along with my athletics. When I was in my Higher Secondary, that time I learned about women’s cricket. So, my physical education teacher (Elsamma baby) introduced me to cricket. Elsamma teacher spoke about KCA selection process and after that I decided to pick up the sport.
In my first trial, they didn’t select me because I was a newcomer. I was very disappointed but my teacher comforted me. In the next trial, my name came first and from that day onwards, cricket became my life.
4. You come from Kurichia community, the Adivasi tribe of the warriors in Kerala. Was the community open to you choosing cricket or were there initial hurdles?
Yes, I come from a Scheduled Tribe Community (ST). My parents are from different communities and in the olden days, it was a sin to marry in different caste. So that became an issue and they expelled my parents from the community. As far as my cricket is concerned, I was never denied and my parents always supported me.
5. Who were your cricketing role model / inspiration whilst growing up?
Sachin Tendulkar. In my childhood I heard most about Sachin sir. They will tell (kutti Sachin is playing) “small Sachin is playing”. But after knowing about Women cricket Mithali didi and Harman didi became my favorites. Now I am following them. I am a big fan of MS Dhoni, Brendon McCullum, Michael Hussey and Adam Gilchrist.
6. What age did you make your domestic debut for Kerala? Were you excited with the opportunity or nervous with the expectations from you?
Towards the end of 18, I made my debut. That was an amazing experience because I was the first reserve for Kerala Senior team. One of my senior player could not participate in that tournament. So KCA gave first priority to me. So I joined with the team. That was my first trip out of Kerala state as I flew to Chennai. I played my debut match against Hyderabad. I got to learn a lot from that tournament. The year was 2013-14. From then till 2019, I am a part of Kerala State cricket team and in the playing XI of the team.
7. On April 4th, something special happened under your leadership! How was the feeling after winning T20 Super League title in Mumbai which went down the wire?
Ans. Oh Yesss!!! Still I get goosebumps when I recall that game. It is really difficult to express that feeling in words.
From the beginning, my entire team never thought about the trophy. We all thought that we have to go, participate and play some matches, do our best and give our individual performances. That’s it. But our coach had different plans for us. Coach Suman Sharma worked on a great strategy. Suman ma'am boosted our morale in every game and we kept on improving match by match.
2018, April 4th, Wednesday, Kerala vs Maharashtra, we won the toss and elected to field first. We planned to restrict the opponents under 80 runs because in T20, anything more than 100 is very difficult to chase even if you have a pretty good batting line up. So we planned like that. But they scored 114/4 runs. That made things a lot difficult for us. But coach asked us to go out and give a good fight.
We were ready to play. Kerala lost 1st wicket in 4.2 overs with just 20 runs on the board, 2nd wicket after 31 runs in 5.4 overs, 3rd on 37 in 8.5 overs and 4th at 50 in 11.5 overs. Now it was my turn.
I went to bat hoping that we would loose the game because the run-a-ball equation was too high. I told my partner not to worry about the result and that we had to play all 20 overs. That’s it. We started connecting the ball well and rotated the strike to keep their bowlers in pressure and at one point we needed just 30 runs in 34 balls. In the last over, we needed 6/7 runs. I scored a boundary and the winning runs too.
1st time in the history of women's cricket, Kerala became All India Champions, unbelievable moment and I thank my team-mates and god for making that happen.
8. You have been given a nick-name “Jhonty Rhodes” for your fielding skills. But personally what do you enjoy the most? Breaking stumps of hitting the ball out of the park?
Ans. Very difficult to tell. I love breaking stumps and loves taking diving catches at the same time. Love to hit the ball out of the park. I enjoy my bowling too but 1% extra I will give to my fielding to be honest. On the whole, I enjoy my batting, bowling and fielding. Haha. I enjoy everything about cricket.
9. In 2016, something special happened again. You were a substitute fielder for Gautam Gambhir and he later gifted you his bat for your awe-inspiring commitment. Did you play with that bat? Wasn’t it heavy for you?
Ans. I will never ever forget that moment. It happened in front of 1000+ audience and Rahul Dravid sir who was present at the ground. Gautam Sir gave me his bat and I couldn't believe what was happening. It was surreal. Yes I played my UR3 matches with that bat. I scored fastest 100 in that tournament taking just 84 balls and went on to score 120* in 90 balls. In the beginning, I found the bat a little heavy but after some practice, it felt normal. So now I am very comfortable with that bat and still I am playing with that bat only. To be honest, that boosted my confidence and what to say, it helped me improve my self-confidence as well.
Pic Credits : TOI
10. What all are the challenges faced by a domestic female cricketer today?
Ans. Lack of matches. We have only one days and T20s.
11. Tell us about your coaches who has helped you shape your cricket career?
Ans. Firstly, it is my teacher Elsamma who introduced me to the cricket and after that, Anumol Baby and Shanavas (These two have helped me a lot on my skills and techniques). Even now I don’t have personal coach. So I practice alone. When I got selected for Kerala, I met so many coaches and everyone helped me shape my cricket. But these three people will always be my favourite.
12. Which has been the turning point in your cricket career?
Ans. To be honest, I still believe in two things… First : When I met David Johnson sir (from Karnataka) and second: When I was gifted a cricket bat by Gambhir Sir. Because during IDBI Bowling Foundation Camp first time, I met David sir at Wayanad Krishnagirl Stadium. He came during my net session and he was watching my batting. I had hardly played 6/7 balls, suddenly he stopped my batting. He figured out my weak areas by then and I was surprised to know that. I was weak on my leg side so he started to give more balls on the leg side in that camp. He would find time to correct me. He gave me more confidence. After this camp in Krishnagiri, India A vs South Africa A matches came. That time I met Gambhir sir and that was an amazing experience for me. He gifted me his bat. It was so kind of him to do that. So after that awesome day, I played UR3 Interstate matches and scored fastest 100. I believe that these two moments were the turning point in my cricketing career.
13. Your cricket career faced a major setback when most of your house was damaged in Kerala 2018 floods. How did this calamity affect your cricket career?
Yes, yes. It was very bad. Almost all of the Kerala state was under water. We had never expected that this flood would become this much bad. That was my worst experience. Because at that time, I got selected for challengers trophy. I was going to represent India Red team. But I was stuck at my home. I was worried about my matches. I thought that in such a situation, I would not be able to get out from it. I am going to loose my matches. So many things were going into my mind and at the same time my house was surrounded by water. Not only me but my neighbours were also trying to escape from that.
Finally police boat came for us. First I kept my cricket kit safely and then my kit bag, I carried my clothes as well. So I was able to reach Bangalore for Challengers trophy but mentally I was not fit because my home situations were very bad. My home, my parents etc. So, I really struggled to concentrate. In the evening, parents used to call me and narrate the scenes back home. My team-mates helped me a lot to overcome the tense situation.
14. Your views on our “Female Cricket” platform?
Ans. I am a daily viewer on Instagram. Thank you so much for your support. Please keep supporting us. That gives us more confidence. Female Cricket updating every women’s match, scores and players’ interviews. That helps others to follow women cricket and know about women cricket. Such a wonderful job you guys are doing. All the very best. Thank you for your valuable support.