At 43, Kannur native Sabeeja lands a slot in Qatar Women's Cricket Team

Sabeeja AP
Sabeeja AP.

In their early 40s, most sportspersons would have already settled into retirement or be bidding farewell to a career that had long past its peak -- like 42-year-old West Indies cricket great Chris Gayle did at the T20 World Cup.

But for former Kerala women's cricket team captain Sabeeja AP, 43 is when she is hitting the peak of a professional career that began in 1989.

Sabeeja, a native of Keecheri in the Kannur district of Kerala, who now resides in Doha, has been selected to the Qatar National Women's Cricket Team for a three-match T20I series against visiting Nepal this month.

“It is a dream come true,” a jubilant Sabeeja said over the phone from Doha.

She is the oldest member of the 15-member team that was announced by Qatar Cricket Association President Yousef Jeham al-Kuwari on Sunday.

Interestingly, Sabeeja's student Saachi Dhadwal, daughter of Mumbai natives, is also part of the squad.

Sabeeja's daughter Malavika, who was a district-level player, -- bowling off-spin just like her mother -- is studying BDS in Mangalore.


Getting noticed abroad
Sabeeja has been working as an activity coordinator at the Cambridge International School in Doha since 2017.

Having worked as a coach for several years in Kerala, she continued training young cricketers in Doha and completed the QCA level-O certificate.

To stay in shape, Sabeeja also played regularly. Qatar's flexible cricketing schedule that wasn't greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic proved helpful.

“Unlike in India, we don't have district or state-level matches. Here, we play club-level tournaments, which is a great way to work on your skills and stay in shape,” says Sabeeja.

Her all-round performances soon got noticed and she nearly made the cut last year, when teams from Kuwait and Oman visited. But as she couldn't meet the requisite eligibility criteria related to residency, Sabeeja remained as a trainer.

This year, though, Sabeeja was hopefull of a slot in the squad and it did happen.


Cricketing career
Back in Kerala, Sabeeja had an excellent career, as a player, coach and later as a selector.

During a playing career spanning 17 years, she represented Kerala in the U-16, U-19 and senior categories. It was under her captaincy that a Kerala U-19 women's cricket team first qualified for a national championship.

She was assistant to popular coach Robin Menon of a Kerala U-19 team and also managed the Kannur district team before being appointed to the U-16 and U-19 selection committees.

Sabeeja was working as an assistant professor at the Chinmaya Arts and Science College for Women, Kannur, when Doha came calling.

“When I was a youngster I had dreamt of playing for India, but it never materialised. Now, in my 40s I have been given a chance to play for the Qatar national team and it all feels so surreal,” said Sabeeja.

She wants to make the most of this opportunity and set an example for her younger teammates. “We have a fine balance in the team and I hope my experience will come in handy.”

Qatar is set to play three T20Is against Nepal on November 16, 17 and 18 at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium in Doha and Sabeeja can't wait to make a fresh start to her career.

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