Sajana Sajeevan
Sajana Sajeevan(Photo | PTI)

Kerala all-rounder Sajana Sajeevan: From paddy field cricket to overnight star for Mumbai Indians

Sajana's act of ultimate cricketing fantasy that turned her into an overnight protagonist had its genesis in humble surroundings of Mananthavady, a village in Wayanad, Kerala

BENGALURU: Sajeevan and Sharada struggled to hold back their tears when their daughter Sajana informed them about her debut for Mumbai Indians in the Women's Premier League (WPL) opener against Delhi Capitals on Friday.

Their anxious wait to see Sajana in action turned into a joyous occasion for the whole neighbourhood as she slammed a final-ball six to propel the defending champions to a thrilling four-wicket victory here.

Sajana's act of ultimate cricketing fantasy that turned her into an overnight protagonist had its genesis in humble surroundings of Mananthavady, a village in Wayanad, Kerala.

Sajeevan, an autorickshaw driver in the village, and Sharada, panchayat councillor and accountant, had more daily worries, including loans, to address when Sajana began to take some interest in cricket.

In fact, their modest financial environs prevented them from supporting Sajana's dream to pursue cricket.

"Our income was not really that big enough to fund her sporting activities and travelling for tournaments," Sajeevan said.

"But she was always passionate about cricket and used to play the game at the paddy field near our home with coconut petiole with her friends and relatives. One day she met (former Indian cricketer) Gautam Gambhir at the Krishnagiri stadium here, and got an autographed bat. Seeing that we realised her passion for the sport. Elsamma Baby, the Physical Education teacher in the local government school too told us to encourage her sporting ambitions," he says.

 Mumbai Indians batters Sajeevan Sajana and Amanjot Kaur celebrate the WPL 2024 match over Delhi Capitals, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
Mumbai Indians batters Sajeevan Sajana and Amanjot Kaur celebrate the WPL 2024 match over Delhi Capitals, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.(Photo | PTI)

The turning point came when Sajana, who has a degree in political science, was selected to play for her district in the Under-19 tournaments.

"I did not have funds to travel. When I was selected to play for my district, I started earning money, 150 Rs per day as daily allowance. That was big money for me. Then, it went to 150, 300 and 900. I wanted to feel happy for my parents," said Sajana in a video uploaded on the MI website.

But that was just the first point of her heady trip. She soon was drafted into the state Under-19 side, and was later appointed as the captain too.

In the subsequent decade, Sajana's profile as a handy all-rounder – a hard-hitting batter and off-spinner – got some more value additions as she also got selected for India A.

Sajana Sajeevan
Women's Premier League: Mumbai Indians beat Delhi Capitals by four wickets

The first sign of a wider recognition came when she entered the auction pool during the first WPL auction early last year.

"Sajana was so nervous that day and she did not even watch it (auction) on the TV. But she was a bit upset when she failed to attract a bid last year,” says Sajeevan.

But a quick pep-talk from K Rajagopal, her current coach, kept Sajana, who once made a cameo appearance in Tamil move Kanaa, motivated.

"I told her not to get disheartened after that auction. If you keep performing then the chance will certainly come your way again. She is a strong girl, and it was just the case of keeping her focus on the game. She did that when there was hardly any cricket during the flood (2018) and Covid days. Her desire to achieve her goal is her strength,” he says.

Sajana's perseverance was rewarded late last year when Mumbai Indians picked the 29-year-old up from the auction room for Rs 15 lakh, a jump of Rs 5 lakh from her base price.

"She was so happy. She called all her friends and coaches to thank them. Sajana told us that she never expected to get a contract from Mumbai, the biggest team in the league," says Sajeevan.

The right-hander stamped her mark in her WPL debut itself, smoking off-spinner Alice Capsey for that match-winning six over long-on. It prompted her teammate Yastika Bhatia, who herself made a well-timed fifty, to term Sajana as the ‘Kieron Pollard' of MI women's outfit.

"If you have watched Harry di (DC captain Harmanpreet Kaur) speak in interviews before, she mentioned that Sajana is a player to watch out for in this WPL. MI have faith in her and she is like Kieron Pollard of the women's team. She has got that role, and she did really well, credit goes to her,” Yastika said in the post-match press conference.

Sajana's hopes have also soared with that six.

"Sajana now says she wants to wear an Indian jersey soon like Minnu Mani (Indian cricketer from Wayanad, who played for Delhi on Friday). Hopefully, her dreams will come true," said Sajeevan.

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