From Kolkata’s slums to elite cricket: The story of India’s Saika Ishaque | Cricket

Mumbai, India – Park Circus, a bustling neighbourhood within the coronary heart of India’s historic japanese metropolis Kolkata, is named a Muslim ghetto by its inhabitants and town’s Hindu middle-class populace.

A few of the poorest slums of town are discovered right here on the cross-section of Kolkata’s central and southern districts in a mixture of posh enclaves, malls and eating places.

In a conservative and marginalised surroundings, particularly for girls, it’s nothing wanting outstanding that one of many neighbourhood’s personal, Saika Ishaque, picked up cricket at a younger age.

What’s extra, the “ziddi” (headstrong) participant from Park Circus went on to turn out to be one in every of Indian cricket’s breakout stars and rags-to-riches success tales of the yr.

In a fairytale-like yr, Saika signed a contract with the Mumbai Indians franchise within the inaugural Ladies’s Premier League (WPL), accomplished a title-winning marketing campaign with them and made a formidable debut for India within the latest T20 sequence towards England.

The 28-year-old left-arm spinner now finds herself knocking on the doorways of the Check crew as India look to construct a dominant squad.

‘Tough and hard childhood’

Has it come straightforward for Saika, although?

Simply ask Jhulan Goswami, the legendary quick bowler who’s famend as a poster youngster of unbelievable, against-all-odds narratives of triumph in Indian cricket.

“Saika has had a tough and hard childhood,” Goswami informed Al Jazeera.

Goswami is aware of Saika higher than most, being her former teammate within the Bengal aspect and present bowling coach at Mumbai Indians.

“Her household’s monetary situation has at all times been completely abject. She misplaced her father at a really younger age, and coming from such a spot the place having two sq. meals a day or finding out or taking part in is a tall ask, it’s fairly unbelievable to see a lady having come this far and play cricket for India.”

Goswami has watched Saika’s journey unfold from up shut.

The 41-year-old remembers a pre-teen Saika lugging a bat virtually twice her dimension for apply periods at Vivekananda Park in southern Kolkata.

“For an 11- or- 12-year-old, she had a whole lot of pluck, the sort of X issue you search for in younger cricketers. She would come to the nets holding her mom’s hand and at all times used the masculine gender for Hindi phrases as if she had been a boy: khaunga, jaunga, karunga [I will eat, go, do].”

Such slip-ups are nonetheless a part of her speech. It’s partly all the way down to her upbringing within the bylanes of Park Circus, the place most of her childhood associates had been boys, a rarity for Muslim girls there.

Her childhood was spent taking part in gully cricket, driving bikes and strutting across the neighbourhood with the air of an area gang boss.

‘I’m right here to take wickets’

To all that rizz, add a penchant for dying her hair purple, inexperienced, purple and different hues.

“She has a ‘bindaas’ [carefree] character,” Harmanpreet Kaur, the India captain, who additionally leads Mumbai Indians, mentioned on the eve of Saika’s India debut final week.

Echoing Saika’s iconic quip, “I’m a bowler. I’m right here to take wickets” from her WPL stint, Harmanpreet added: “She has a wicket-taking mindset.”

Saika ended the T20 sequence with 5 wickets, three of which got here within the third T20, which India received.

The daring spinner “loves a problem”, based on England and Mumbai Indians all-rounder Natalie Sciver-Brunt.

“Even in her debut sequence for India, I noticed her assault the stumps and make life troublesome for batters.”

Charlotte Edwards, former England captain and incumbent head coach of Mumbai Indians, believes Saika’s persona shines by means of her bowling.

“She’s an actual competitor and positively a personality,” Edwards informed Al Jazeera.

“She’s a bit completely different – look how she’s acquired the blonde locks now!”

Goswami is credited with bringing Saika to the WPL.

“Forward of the public sale, I requested Jhulan, ‘Who’s the perfect left-arm spinner who’s not performed for India but?’ And he or she mentioned it was Saika and despatched me a video of hers,” Edwards mentioned.

“I watched it instantly and knew immediately she was a participant we wished.”

It did assist that Saika had lengthy been a dependable wicket-taker in home cricket, the place she has taken 140 wickets and had put within the laborious yards in almost 12 years.

From Park Circus to the large stage

Regardless of her home success, monetary challenges – together with prices concerned in taking part in the sport persistently and the traditionally restricted incomes alternatives for feminine cricketers in India – usually threatened to drag Saika away from the game.

“In some ways, the onus was on us, her Bengal teammates and the Cricket Affiliation of Bengal, to make sure Saika doesn’t turn out to be one of many 1000’s of cricketers we’ve misplaced because of the lack of economic safety,” Goswami mentioned.

The tall Indian fast-bowling nice gave Saika her first cricket package however performs it down.

“Whoever might chipped in to make sure that Saika completed her education and stored her cricket profession going. The remaining is all all the way down to her personal dedication, willpower and future.”

Saika’s first brush with cricket got here on the streets of Park Circus.

Her father, inspired by his pal, enrolled Saika in an area cricket membership the place she began out as a quick bowler however sometimes stored wickets too. It was on the insistence of an teacher at Vivekananda Park that the naturally left-handed Saika traded tempo for spin.

“What struck me after I first noticed her movies and in individual was that she was barely faster than most left-arm spinners,” Edwards mentioned.

“She had the flexibility to bowl within the powerplay, and that’s an actual energy for left-arm spinners. She was actually correct by way of what she dropped at the desk.”

With each wicket Saika took for Mumbai Indians – 15 in 10 matches, making her the one Indian spinner within the high 10 wicket-takers within the league – Edwards remembers turning to Goswami within the dugout to precise her marvel.

“I’d inform Jhulan: ‘We’ve acquired the perfect left-hand spinner in India for 10 lakh rupees [$12,000] – an absolute steal!,’” Edwards recalled.

“And look, she is taking part in for India now.”

Saika Ishaque, proper, took three wickets within the third and remaining T20 match towards England [Rajanish Kakade/AP]

A fighter armed with a killer intuition

It’s a good distance from the place Saika discovered herself solely three years in the past. Grounded by an extended shoulder-injury layoff, she misplaced her accuracy and rhythm to the extent that she needed to be dropped from her state crew.

Nervous about her fast decline, former India girls’s cricketer and nationwide selector Mithu Mukherjee put her in contact with former Bengal left-arm spinner Shibsagar Singh. Below his watch, Saika step by step rediscovered her bowling mojo and went again to her wicket-taking methods.

“The Saika I’ve identified all these years has had that indomitable spirit: to bounce again and battle tooth and nail to beat any hardships on and off the sphere,” Goswami mentioned.

“She’s a fighter, and the adversities she confronted from a younger age have armed her with a killer intuition.”

Saika’s regular rise in 2023 augurs properly for India as they give the impression of being to construct as much as subsequent yr’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.

“The journey has simply begun for Saika,” Goswami mentioned.

“Given the ups and downs she has confronted, I’d like to see her place a bejewelled crown of satisfaction and prosperity on her mom’s head. And that will be some story, wouldn’t it?”

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