On the night of September 2021, cricket coach Shibsagar Singh’s phone rang not once, not twice, but a number of times. “Main unknown number jaldi se pick nahi karta (I don’t readily take calls from unknown numbers),” he says.
However, he did call this “unknown number” back and little did he know that he was taking the first step towards shaping a great future.
It was Saika Ishaque on the other side. The left-arm spinner had played for Bengal earlier but was now finding it difficult to make the cut in the state side. She had been out of the team for three years and had no clue how to get her career back on track. That was when she decided to start afresh and join Singh.
“I met her around September 2021. At that point in time, she had been dropped from the Bengal team for almost three years and was in a state of dilemma on what to do and how to move ahead. Of course, it’s a long period for any individual,” Singh said in a chat with News18.
“She was really upset with what was going on and had reached out to me for help. She told me about herself and that she was a left-arm spinner and had played for Bengal earlier.
“She came to my academy (in Kolkata) and I had a chat with her for a good 45 minutes and convinced her to be strong and to work on the basics,” Singh added.
Back to the Basics
There were some small technical glitches in Ishaque’s bowling and Singh took the onus on himself to rectify them.
“We started working on her technical glitches like the landing of the foot, transfer of weight, release of the ball and so on. These are all interrelated and you have to work on them in combination to get a good final product,” he said.
Singh hadn’t coached any female cricketer before Ishaque and only had boys in his academy. However, the former left-arm spinner made sure that he didn’t leave any stone unturned in training Ishaque.
“I hadn’t coached any female cricketer before Saika and she was my first girl student. And after joining me, she started bowling to the boys here. There are many Ranji Trophy players as well whom she used to bowl to in the nets. That’s why whenever she went to play with her team, she would be a bit more confident.
“I always tell her to go with the mindset of dismissing the batter. She carefully followed whatever I told her and after a couple of months, she returned to the Bengal setup in the one-dayers,” Singh noted. He added that he always told Ishaque to focus on one ball at a time.
“Another thing that I always tell her is to only think about the ball that you are going to bowl. Pura over ya pure match ke baare mein sochne ki zarurat nahi hai. Concentrate on one ball at a time and throw the dot ball (Don’t think about the entire over or the entire match. Rather, concentrate on bowling one ball at a time and try and bowl dot deliveries).”
Ishaque was slowly and steadily getting back into the groove and started to back her abilities. The spinner was back on the field and was performing consistently for whichever team she played.
“I used to tell her to try and bowl as many maidens as she could. Initially, she used to be reluctant, but I told her to try and do what I said,” Singh revealed.
“She started bowling economical spells during the practice games and started gaining confidence. She started to notch up bowling figures of 0/12 in 10 overs, 0/14 in 10 overs and 4/16 in 10 overs. This helped her a lot to gain confidence.
“Later, when she played in the one-dayers for Bengal, she was able to replicate these performances and also picked up wickets consistently. Then she did well in the zonals, challengers and T20s,” Singh added.
The coach lavished praise on Ishaque’s batting skills as well and noted that she is a thinking player and has the ability to score runs quickly lower down the order.
Introduction to the Game
It was Ishaque’s father who had introduced a then “reluctant” kid to the game.
“It was her father who introduced her to the game but she lost him at a very early age,” Singh revealed. “She is a very talented and brave individual and is helpful too,” Singh said.
In fact, both the pupil and the teacher are very humble and helpful. While Ishaque would go any distance to help her near and dear ones, Singh has his own way to help those who need his support.
“I don’t take money from anyone who is not financially strong and also provide them with kits. I didn’t take any fees from Saika either,” Singh said.
Moment of Joy!
The moment of delight finally came for both Ishaque and Singh when the left-arm spinner was roped in by the Mumbai Indians (MI) Women’s Premier League (WPL) side for a sum of Rs 10 lakh.
Singh recalled the moment when Ishaque was bought by MI and said, “She had gone out for some work when her name came up for the bidding. Later, I called her up after she got picked up by Mumbai Indians. At first, she didn’t really believe me (laughs). But she was really happy. I just asked her to get ready for the big stage but at the same time be humble and grounded. I told her it’s going to be a different experience for you. So, learn as much as you can.”
Looking at the way his student has performed so far in the WPL, Singh is pretty confident that Ishaque will be donning the Indian jersey pretty soon.
“I feel she will break into the Indian team in the next assignment that is lined up after the WPL. Even the experts and the commentators are talking about her. So, I do have a belief that the day isn’t really far away. She really deserves to don that jersey,” he concluded.
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