She made her debut for India in 2016 at just 20 years of age, however, she had an ordinary outing. That did not deter her. Coming back to the domestic circuit, she strived hard on her game and scored tons of runs. The right-hand opening batter, who plays for Indian Railways, has been a prolific performer in the last four years. Choosing cricket over engineering and medicine, she has certainly proved her mettle with the bat. In an exclusive interview with Female Cricket, Andhra’s batting sensation Sabbhineni Meghana, who is currently playing the senior women’s one-day Challenger Trophy, talks about the role of her parents in her cricketing journey, her future goals, and many more.
When did you start playing cricket?
I was in seventh standard when I first started playing cricket. Before that, I was into skating, swimming and badminton. My elder sister was also into swimming. I have participated at the national level in skating. However there were not adequate facilities for these sports, so I decided to take up cricket.
In 2007, when I was in seventh standard, I joined a summer camp in my school DAV Public School, where there was cricket coaching. At that time, there were no girls but only boys who practiced under the coach. I was the only girl, not only in the school but also in the entire town.
It was from then my cricketing journey started. After that I joined a cricket academy where there were girls. It was in Vijayawada. Srinivas Reddy was my first coach there.
Tell us about your parents and their support for your cricket.
My father worked as a divisional engineer with NTPC thermal power station and my mother is a home-maker. My parents have been very supportive throughout my journey. My father loves cricket and he used to play in our colony. Probably it is because of him that I started liking the sport. On the other hand, my mother, who held the fort at home, left no stone unturned when it came to my practice and my routines. She used to wake up at 3.30 am and wake me up at 4 am. Together we used to board the bus at 4.30 am from Ibrahimpatnam to reach Indira Gandhi Municipal Stadium for practice that started at 6 am.
When I was selected for the state and started touring, my father used to travel to watch me play. He also used to teach me and help me in my studies during the non-match days, if I had exams just after the tournament. I am indebted to my parents for their unconditional support.
When did you break into Andhra’s state cricket team? Can you tell us more about your domestic playing days?
Just after a year, in 2008, I was selected in Andhra Pradesh’s U-19 team and soon in the senior state side. Purnima Rao was our coach then. Being a former India player herself, we got to learn a lot from her. She was very supportive and paid individual attention to each and every player. In my second season itself I was the leading run getter in the domestic circuit which propelled my selection into the Board President’s XI team, which played against Australia.
Since you were in school when you started playing for the state, how did you strike a balance between academics and cricket?
Till my eighth standard, I regularly attended school. But once I was selected for the state and started touring, it was difficult for me to attend school on a regular basis.
I vividly recall, during my tenth standard I could just study for two months. Nobody in my family and school had much hopes. To everyone’s surprise, I scored 530/600 in the board exam. I opted for Science and completed my graduation in B.Sc. Since I was doing well academically, my parents thought that I should pursue further education.
I was in a dilemma too, whether to continue cricket or go for higher studies. At that time, Purnima Rao ma’am, who had confidence in me, convinced my parents to allow me to continue playing cricket.
On the back of your prolific domestic performances, you were selected to play for India in 2016. Can you tell us about that day when you got the news?
I was playing U-19, U-23 and seniors. At the U-23 level, I was the top run-getter in two consecutive seasons. In 2015, I was then selected for the senior ZCA camp and was the second leading run scorer, which pushed my case for the Indian team. The selection came as a surprise as I was not accepting it at all. I was playing a domestic match at BKC in Mumbai and my father was there on the ground. After the match, he broke the news to me and my joy knew no bounds.
Any memories from your India playing days?
Yes, in the first two matches that I played against the West Indies in Vijayawada, I got off to good starts. I scored 17 in one match and 19 in the other. I made good use of the powerplay as I was striking at over 100 in the first match and just about run a ball in the second match. However, I was disappointed that I could not convert my starts to big scores. Taking a leaf out of that stint, I have been working on converting my starts to big scores.
In 2017, you began your journey with South Central Railways and Indian Railways. Tell us about that.
Just after playing for India, there were recruitments being done in South Central Railways. Before me, there were two other Indian players waiting in the recruitment line which meant that I would not get the chance. However, Nooshin al Khadeer ma’am and RSR Murthy sir, who was the head coach of South Central Railways wanted me in the team, so they got me in through the talent quota. The very same year, I represented Indian Railways, a team filled with Indian players.
This year has been a dream year for you so far, being the leading run getter in senior women’s one day tournament and Challenger Trophy. How do you feel?
I am very happy with my performance and I am glad to see whatever hard work that I have put in is bearing fruits. Getting starts was never an issue with me, however converting them into big scores was. This year, I have been able to stay in the middle for longer periods of time which has helped me to score big runs for my team.
What has helped you to become a good opening batter?
I think playing my natural game and trusting my skills have played an important role for me to become a good opening batter. Also I feel shot selection is the key. As a batter I have matured with age and have a better understanding of my skills now than what I had in the past.
What are your future goals and plans?
I am in the process of working on my fitness and mindset. I have a personal trainer from South Central Railways. Her name is Mantravadi Shalini. She has been working with me on my fitness. I believe that if I am able to improve my fitness I will be a better player. Apart from fitness, I am working hard on my mindset. I have always got the starts. However I am not able to convert them into big scores. I have been working on this and this year I have seen the results. I would like to continue strengthening my mindset.
With the World Cup just a stone’s throw away, are you expecting to make a comeback for India?
Honestly, I am not thinking about that. I want to do well in the tournament that I am playing now and I believe that if I am able to perform consistently well at the domestic level, making a comeback for India will be not far.
How has women’s cricket developed in Andhra?
Women’s cricket has grown by leaps and bounds in Andhra. The association has done a lot of work with respect to providing state-of-the-art facilities and game time. There is one international stadium in the state, dedicated academies for girls, and on-season and off-season training camps. There are invitation matches too with other states just before the BCCI tournaments. Apart from these, there are inter-district matches that help in selecting the state team.
What message would you like to give the girls who are just starting out to play cricket?
I would just like to say have the right attitude, be confident about your skills and have self-belief.
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.