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Saika Ishaque’s hard road to WPL glory

“Bowler hon, shutter lene ke liye aayi hoon (I’m a bowler so I’m here to pick up wickets)”.

trust in saika isaque‘s voice was unmistakable as she donned the purple cap, having become the highest wicket-taker in the WPL with two strikes. against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Monday. On Thursday, he stretched his lead at the top with three more wickets. against delhi capitals, sending them on their way to 105 all-in. Capitals headed into what was a clash between two unbeaten teams with consecutive 200+ totals. But they were undone by the brilliance of Ishaque, who took a difficult path to the glitz and glamor of the WPL.

Ishaque comes from a humble background in Park Circus, a neighborhood in South Kolkata. Her father, who passed away 15 years ago, introduced her to the sport. She made the tough yardage at Under-19 and Under-23 levels for Bengal before playing for the senior team. But a shoulder injury to hers in 2018 affected her for a couple of years and the road ahead was difficult.

Ishaque struggled to pick up wickets on his return and then sat out for the Bengal side. Low on confidence, he was introduced to Bengal’s former left arm, all-rounder. Shib Sagar Singh in 2021, and he helped her make technical adjustments. Watching some footage of her, Shibsagar noted that Ishaque was throwing too full and not letting the ball spin enough.

“I saw that she is talented and that there is something different about her, and I made her understand what her problem is,” Shibsagar told ESPNcricinfo. “I asked him to move back his length a bit, which allowed the ball to drift, rather than throw it all the way and not let it spin. I also told him not to try for wickets but to focus on bowling the right way.

“I told him to focus on bowling one ball at a time and not think about the whole over or other things. His mindset slowly started to change. His previous focus was wanting to pick X wickets in Y overs.”

Former Indian versatile Rumeli Dar, who also captained Ishaque in Bengal, loved the gusty and feisty character that Ishaque had in the side. Bowling attacking batsmen was something he took particular delight in.

“(Since her return from injury) she knows where the ball needs to land so it spins and causes trouble for the hitter.”

Rumeli Dhar, who was the captain of Ishaque in Bengal

“When I was the captain, there were a couple of instances where I asked her if she would be able to pick up a difficult wicket and she said yes and did that too,” Dhar said. “She is badmaash (naughty) but she’s fun loving. She knows how to have fun and also knows how to make people laugh.

“(Since her return) she knows where the ball needs to land in order for it to spin and cause problems for the batsman. She has learned to respond to the calls of bowling captains and coaches in specific areas and situations. She has a lot of control with her bowling “.

The capitals would learn this the hard way.

Meg Lanning and Shafali Verma, easily one of the most dangerous opening pairings in the WPL, had a 162-run stand in the Capitals’ opening game and then put a society of half a century against UP Warriorz ahead of the match against Mumbai. Ishaque, however, teeed off with his sixth ball, and Shafali played around a fly ball that leaned into the stumps to deliver it. The Capitals were briefly boosted by a fifty-run stand between Lanning and Jemimah Rodrigues, going from 31 for 3 to 81 for 3, but then Ishaque was at it again.

Brought back in the 13th for his third, Ishaque again attacked the stumps and only fired on one touch, only for Rodrigues to step back and miss his slice and be dropped. The left arm spinner then landed a telling shot on the last ball by floating one out and prompting Lanning to charge down and take the air route only for her to hit it for more cover.

All this came after a four wicket carry against Gujarat Giants at DY Patil Stadium to prepare his team for the start of the WPL. While it was Captain Harmanpreet Kaur who stole the show with his sparkling fifties, Ishaque’s exploits ensured she was noticed by all as well.

And so far, of his nine wickets in the WPL, seven have been bowled or lbw.

Before the WPL, Shibsagar took Ishaque to the East Bengal club to train with male cricketers. She specifically asked them to attack her in an attempt to prepare her for the WPL, and she liked what she saw.

“She is dimaagwali (intelligent). He is never afraid to bowl the hard overs – he will bowl two overs on the power play and then he will want to bowl to the death too,” Shibsagar said. “Any bowler can get hit but he’s always confident to pick up the wickets.”

The WPL is expected to be a means to discover limitless talents and accelerate them into the national configuration. Given that Ishaque’s WPL performances have come at a time when India’s left-arm players Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Radha Yadav are struggling for consistency and penetration, Ishaque could well be on his way.