Growing up with two sisters, who play Kabaddi at the national level, she chose the rather untraversed path as she decided to make her career in cricket. From playing at the grassroots to rubbing shoulders with some of the best in the business, this pride of Jammu & Kashmir has indeed come a long way.
In an exclusive interview with Female Cricket, Jammu & Kashmir’s prolific all-rounder Sarla Devi, who will feature in the upcoming Challenger Trophy, talks about her early days in cricket, the spiritual connection that encouraged her to play cricket, and more.
Tell us about your early days in cricket.
I started playing cricket from a very young age in my colony with my cousins. At that time, I just played for fun and had no knowledge about women’s cricket and whether there are teams that play cricket at the professional level. In 2008, it so happened that when I visited an ashram with my family, which we usually do, Satguru Madhu Paramhans Sahib Ji saw me playing cricket. Guruji told my parents that I should pursue cricket seriously and that I have the potential to make it big in the sport. After coming back home, my parents decided to enroll me in a cricket academy. My sisters, who are national-level kabaddi players, had friends, who played cricket. They told my sisters about the ground where I could go for practice. I started my practice under the guidance of Veena Sharma ma’am. She was my first coach and has played an instrumental role in shaping me as a cricketer. At present, I am coached by Vijay Dogra sir at Shubham Khajuria Cricket Academy in Jammu.
How was the support from your family?
My parents and my two elder sisters have always been there for me. Since my sisters played kabaddi at the national level, there was always a sporting environment at home. My parents understood the need for sports and supported me just like they did to my sisters.
Having grown up with sisters who played kabaddi, what made you choose cricket?
I always loved sports and seeing my sisters play and travel for tournaments I was inclined to pursue sports as well. I liked cricket and football more than kabaddi. Between cricket and football, I chose cricket, since I watched it a lot on television and played with my cousins in the colony. Also, the fact that guruji advised my parents to encourage me to play cricket made me opt for this sport.
Who were your role models?
I enjoyed watching Sachin Tendulkar bat, Suresh Raina field, and MS Dhoni captain the side.
When did you break into the Jammu & Kashmir state team?
It was in 2010 when I played my first U-19 for Jammu & Kashmir. I played U-19 for four seasons, then U-23 for a couple of years and at the same time, I was selected in the senior state team.
A couple of years back, you led Jammu & Kashmir. Can you shed some light on what it takes to be a good captain?
A captain should be the one who leads by example and takes the team along with her. Maintaining unity and camaraderie in the team is essential for success. Apart from this, a captain should know the potential of each and every player and should be able to gauge the horses for courses.
In the recently concluded senior women one-day tournament, you picked up 12 wickets and scored 110 runs. Happy with your performance?
I am happy with my performance but yes I feel I could have done much better. I definitely feel I can contribute more with both bat and ball.
With your good performance in the senior women one-day tournament, you have been selected to play the Challenger Trophy. How excited are you to play this mega competition?
I am eagerly looking forward to playing in this tournament, which will have many Indian players. It will be a great experience not only on the field but also off the field. I am sure that I will get to learn a lot from experienced players. Batting against and bowling to some of the best women cricketers in the country will be challenging but I am looking forward to that challenge.
How has women’s cricket developed in Jammu & Kashmir?
Over the years, cricket is developing well in Jammu & Kashmir. More and more girls are taking up the sport. We have many matches at the club level and district level. Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) has played a pivotal role in the growth of women’s cricket. Organizing training camps and practice matches have benefitted the girls. This year was the first time we qualified and credit goes to JKCA for supporting us. Apart from the JKCA matches, last year, we had other matches that were played under the umbrella of RWCC (Royal Women Cricket Club), an initiative by Dr. Roopali Slathia, a player turned coach.
What message would you like to give young girls who are just starting out to play cricket?
Every girl who wants to play cricket should have the drive to play at the highest level. She should be a good learner, be it from the coaches or her teammates. Giving your 100% on the field is the key.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.