As a boy, Sijomon Joseph wanted to be a left-arm fast bowler. But Jean K. John, his coach at Kerala Cricket Association (KCA)'s academy at Mutholy, near Pala, told him to switch to spin bowling and since then there has been no stopping Sijo. The rookie came up with a mach-winning 5/84 in only his second first class game to bowl Kerala to a 131-run win over Rajasthan in their Ranji Trophy Group B game in Thiruvananthapuram last week.
Sijo has been a consistent performer for Kerala at the age-level tournaments and his impressive returns earned him a place in the Indian Youth Test team last year. “I wanted to be a left-arm pacer. My brother took me to a selection camp at Mutholy when I was in standard VIII and it was the first time I bowled with a leather ball. Till then it was only rubber or tennis balls,” Sijo told Onmanorama over the phone from Thiruvananthapuram.
Sijo was picked for the coaching camp at the KCA academy and the teenager found the going tough in the initial days. “It was the first time I was away from home and naturally I felt home sick and returned,” said the 20-year-old from Kidangoor in Pala. Sijo, who lost his father when he was only a-year-and-half old, is the youngest of three brothers.<br />
“But my coach Jean sir persuaded me to return to the academy and it was he who suggested me to turn to spin,” he said. Soon, the results started coming and Sijo made it to the Kottayam U-14 team. “I went on to captain Kerala U-14, U-16, and U-19 teams and we were South Zone champions in all three categories,” he added.
Sijo had a dream debut for the Indian Youth Test team earlier this year when he picked up six wickets in England's second innings in Nagpur. The left-hander also scored an unbeaten 62 in the first innings besides playing out a few vital overs to save the match. “It was a good experience and I got to interact with our coach Rahul (Dravid) sir. He is so cool and has no airs. He made sure no undue pressure was put on me,” said Sijo.<br />
An injury to Kerala's lead spinner K.S. Monish hastened Sijo's call-up to the Ranji team. “I was a bit anxious and could not perform well (on debut against Gujarat). But both our coach (Dav) Whatmore sir and captain Sachin (Baby) made me feel at home. They are very friendly and asked me to play without any pressure,” Sijo said.<br />
Sijo was in his element in the next game against Rajasthan. He provided the hosts with the vital breakthrough by trapping the seasoned Robin Bist in front of the wicket on the final day. “I was really happy as I could contribute to the team's success. I thank God,” said a modest Sijo.<br />
Sijo wants to chip in with his batting as well. “My batting has been a letdown in the last couple of games. But I want to contribute in the coming games,” said Sijo who is a huge fan of his teammate Jalaj Saxena. “I never had any rolemodels. But Saxena's work ethic and the way he approaches the game is something to be emulated,” added the third year BA Economics student of Scared Heart College, Thevara, whose ultimate aim is to play for Team India.