Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Shankar Sajjan: 'Physical challenges' no obstacle for Delhi Bulls net bowler

Indian spinner is part of the squad on his bowling merits and is relishing the chance to be part of an international team

Many of the world’s leading cricketers are travelling from the furthest points of the globe to make it to Abu Dhabi for the start of the T10 this weekend.

None, though, will have faced quite the journey to get here as Shankar Sajjan, even if his home in India is only a relatively short skip away from the UAE.

The 19-year-old leg-spinner has been flown in from Bangalore to act as a net bowler for Delhi Bulls ahead of the tournament starting on Friday.

It is his first trip outside India, and he did not have a passport before the franchise invited him here.

He speaks broken, conversational English, but scarcely any Hindi, which might have been an equally useful lingua franca for his trip. But he has made it here in time.

“I had not expected this type of opportunity to come, but suddenly it happened and I didn’t have a passport,” Sajjan said.

“When I was sent the selection letter, I was able to get a passport in two days only. It took one day more to get the visa, and I immediately got ready to come to Dubai.

“My district [coach] was there. I showed him my selection letter. They have always supported my cricket career. He made some calls, and got it processed by speed post.

“It is my first tour outside the country. My mind has been very excited. I woke up at 3.30am, had to be at the airport two hours before the 7am flight.

“I got my passport and ticket. After that, I didn’t know where to go, where was the flight. I got confused. I asked someone, ‘Sir, where is the flight gate’. I managed to get to the gate, and got to Dubai.”

Sajjan’s big adventure might have been a daunting one, were it not for the fact he is well used to coping with challenges. Because of a congenital chromosome imbalance, Sajjan was born with incomplete upper limbs.

Despite being “physically challenged,” as he terms it, he has already become a cricketer of renown in his home state of Karnataka.

The Bulls have taken the chance on him because they know his credentials.

He bowled to Afghanistan’s players ahead of their first Test, in Bangalore last year, and has also been employed in a similar role for the city’s Indian Premier League franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Sajjan said he has does not want to be defined by his condition, but hopes he can inspire others.

“When I was taken to the doctor [as a small child], they said I would not be able to have straight arms, because there are no big bones here,” Sajjan said, pointing at his shortened forearms.

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20 players to watch at the Abu Dhabi T10 League

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“My mother and father worried how my life would be. How would their son [live his life]? But I have not stopped myself.

“Life is only one chance. Whatever comes to me in my life, I take positives from inside, and try to inspire others.

“I know who I am, what are my strengths, and what I can do. I don’t mind what people talk about me.”

Sajjan earns his livelihood coaching junior cricketers in Bangalore, where he now lives. His family home is a small village, 10 hours’ drive from Karnataka’s state capital.

It is a journey his father, who works for a private agriculture company, first made when his son showed promise for the sport, with the intention of getting him enrolled at a cricket academy in the city.

Guttappa Sajjan’s feeling was a shrewd one. In 2015, his son was one of just 21 selected from over 3,000 aspiring players at a spin-bowling talent hunt run by Anil Kumble.

It was a remarkable achievement, not just for the obvious reasons, but also for the fact Sajjan had only recently converted to bowling spin, and was new to using a leather cricket ball.

“When I first went to the academy in Bijapur, I started as a medium-pace bowler,” said Sajjan, who is taking a break from acting in a Bollywood movie about a team of disability cricketers to be in Dubai.

“But when I bowled, I found the ball would turn automatically [from leg to off] like that. My coach said, if the ball is turning, try to be a leg-spin bowler.”

His previous experiences of bowling to the IPL stars of RCB, and Rashid Khan’s Afghanistan, mean he is not entirely overawed by mixing with the likes of Eoin Morgan, Stephen Fleming, and all the other Delhi Bulls players.

“Delhi Bulls team is different, though,” he said. “When I bowled to Afghanistan, I bowled, then went straight home.

“When I bowled to RCB, I bowled, then after that went home. Now, with Delhi Bulls, I am totally involved with the team.

“I stay with the team, support the team, and this is one of the special moments of my life. I will never forget this moment in my life.”

Updated: November 12, 2019 02:28 PM

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