Najmeen was one of the young performers who made heads turn during this U15 One Day Tournament. Here is an excerpt from an interview with the youngster:
Can you tell me more about your childhood, when you started cricket and how it happened?
Ans: My love for cricket began when I was eight years old and my older brother was picked to represent Nagaland in the Under 16 Associate and Affiliate Trophy. The following year, my second brother was selected for the school team which went on to win the trophy and he was picked for the district team. Their success motivated me to take up the sport and my coach, Mr Nehal Ahemad, who was also a friend of my father, encouraged me to start playing. Initially, he suggested I try badminton as women’s cricket was not yet fully recognized in Nagaland. But when Nagaland received full affiliation, he convinced my father to let me play cricket and I began training at the age of eleven. I was then mentored by my state team coach, Miss Deepali C Patkar, who helped me fine-tune my skills. Her guidance helped me become more confident and I went from being shy to fearless in under 15 tournaments.
Tell us more about your family and siblings.
Ans: My family is made up of six members, including me, my father, my mother, my older brother, my second brother, and my youngest sister. My father is my pillar of support, he helps me with everything from getting my equipment to motivating me and praying for me. My mother, unfortunately, was not able to play cricket, but she is a huge fan of the sport and has taught me how to behave with my coach and team, and also to be modest, humble and grounded. My eldest brother is a state player, so he knows my mistakes and where I need to improve, I consider him my personal coach who knows me well and guides me. My second brother and I have our share of fights and quarrels, but he cares for me a lot and takes care of all my travel and basic needs. My youngest sister is adorable, she started playing cricket at the early age of 7 and we both go to the same academy.
What was your parent’s reaction when said you wanted to play cricket
Ans: My parents were not shocked and astonished as our family holds a cricket background record. I first went to the academy at the age of 12, leaving home for the first time was difficult for me and I cried a lot. My father wanted me to come back home, but my mother and brothers believed in me and encouraged me to stay. This was the only time my father suggested that I return home because of my tears.
How is the facility in Nagaland compared to other places, as far as you saw?
Ans: Before 2019, the cricket facilities available to us were not at the highest standard, however, since then, we have been fortunate to have access to world-class facilities, including an indoor training centre which enables us to train regardless of the weather. We have access to 8 to 12 outdoor turf pitches, and three grounds, one of which is used
to host Ranji matches, and the other two are being readied to host future matches as well. I am thankful to Nagaland Cricket Association for providing us with these outstanding facilities.
Can you elaborate on how your particular day would go
Ans: I have two different routines depending on whether it is off-season or in-season: 1st phase (Off-Season): My day begins at 5 am with jogging, followed by breakfast. Then, I go to school and after returning home, have lunch and then head to the ground to practice for 3 to 4 hours. After returning, I study, have dinner and then sleep. 2nd phase (In-Season): When I am at the academy, my day starts at 5 am with light jogging, followed by a gym session, breakfast, and a strength and conditioning session. After that, we have two more sessions during the day, followed by a warm-down and dinner.
You were one of the top performers this time around but your team struggled a bit to get things done. How do you see that and what shall be done to improve the performance?
Ans: One of the major challenges we faced was a lack of practice, as many players had little to no experience with cricket before November. Despite this, we were able to quickly adapt to the game and perform well, with none of our team members scoring below 50 in any of the matches. This was a big accomplishment for us. As we look ahead to the upcoming season, the girls have already started preparing. I am proud of my team for their hard work and dedication, going from not knowing much about cricket to exceeding our expectations is a great achievement. I am proud of my team and all their effort.
Who is your role model and when did you start watching women’s cricket
Ans: My role models in cricket are Richa Ghosh and Smriti Mandana. They have been an inspiration to me since I started playing women’s cricket in 2020 after India’s team was runners-up in the T20 World Cup.
You have been a part of the U19 team too. What is the main difference you saw with U15 team now.
Compared to the Under-19 team, the Under-15 team had a less professional approach. The bowlers on the Under-19 team had a higher level of skill, precision in their training and shots, and a more determined attitude. The Under-15 team, on the other hand, had players who were visibly younger, and less experienced in matches, and many of
them were new to the sport.
An unforgettable experience in cricket so far
One of my most memorable experiences was when I scored 74 runs against Karnataka. It was not just the score that made it unforgettable, but also the fact that the opposing team had to use 8 bowlers against me, as they couldn’t figure out how to get me out, underestimating me as a weak team player. I was able to prove them wrong
on the field, showing that not all weak teams are the same. Another goal of mine is to represent my country.
Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to the Nagaland Cricket Association, Sir Kechanguilie Rio, Sir Hyunilo Anilo Khing, Sir Abei Rup, and all the coaches, trainers, physios, team managers, office staff, and especially the groundskeepers who prepared the pitches for us to play on.