India’s left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht has an impressive resume:
- Joint second highest wicket-taker in ODIs in 2017: 29 wickets in 16 matches at an average of 17.27.
- The only Indian in both the ICC Women’s ODI and T20I teams of the year.
- The only woman to take two ODI five-wicket hauls in the calendar year (2017)- incidentally, both against Pakistan.
- The only Indian woman to take a hat-trick in any format.
- India’s fifth highest wicket-taker in ODIs and third highest in T20Is; with 129 international wickets, she is only the fifth Indian woman to cross the 100-wicket mark.
Just a glance at her career numbers – 79 ODI wickets at an average of 21.98, and 50 T20I wickets at 14.50 (and an economy rate of 5.20)- and you wonder why she is not a more celebrated member of the team.
“Chotey shahar ya kadd ki baat nahi hain, bowlers ka maamla hi aisa hain Indian cricket mein. [It’s not a question of being from a small city or of a small built, this is the deal bowlers get in Indian cricket],” Bisht told ESPNCricinfo when asked about the lack of (commercial) interest in the bowlers since the World Cup.
Bisht is always quick with her responses. She is often ready with a dry remark, delivered deadpan before she breaks into a fit of laughter. She doesn’t seek the limelight, but often she finds herself at centre stage. Thrust a camera in her face, and Bisht retreats into her diminutive 5’1″ frame, constantly looking at her feet and pulling at her cap, but on the field, she has a larger than life presence.
Right from her international debut in 2011, the left-arm spinner from Almora has been India’s go-to bowler under pressure.
“No matter which team I play for, if we are defending a small score, or if the match is at a crucial juncture, I am given the ball,” Bisht says. “I like (bowling in) those situations. It gets the best out of me.”
At the international level, across formats, Bisht has taken 30 wickets while opening the bowling – the most by an Indian bowler. In T20Is, her record is particularly impressive. She has taken the new ball in 10 matches and picked up 14 wickets at an average of 13. Her economy of 4.74 when opening the bowling, is even lower than her overall (career) figure of 5.20.
Bisht’s incisiveness with the new ball can be put down to her slightly unorthodox methods. She has a rather slingy action, and darts the ball into the stumps, attacking the batswomen’s front pad in an attempt to get wickets. The lack of turn, and rather low bounce (due to the low release point) mean her deliveries often drift in to the batswomen and skid on quickly, catching them on the crease. Eight of her 14 wickets while opening the bowling have come either LBW or bowled.
Bisht, who is the first woman from Uttarakhand to play for the country, spent a chunk of her career playing for Uttar Pradesh and North Central Railway as Neetu David’s understudy. Arguably one of the greatest bowlers India has ever produced. David taught her fellow left-arm spinner a few tricks of the trade, and continues to be her mentor.
“Whenever I have any problems with my bowling, she (David) is always there to help me out,” says Bisht. “Since we play for the same Railway team (NCR), whenever we have camp, she watches me bowl and we discuss different tactics…I have learnt a lot from her. She is a special bowler!”
Having learnt from the best, Bisht is never short of advice. In the nets, or after a session, she is often seen talking to the younger bowlers in the group, egging them on with an encouraging word, or discussing what they can do better.
“Ekku di is someone from whom I have learnt a lot,” says Arundhati Reddy, Bisht’s teammate at Railways and India. “She is always in my ear about what lengths to bowl and how to attack different batswoman. She helps me come up with plans, and constantly gives me feedback on my bowling.”
Bisht is not just someone who mentors the youngsters, but is also influential among the more senior players. Through India’s successful run in ODIs last year, Bisht and Shikha Pandey were the team’s highest wicket-takers with 29 and 28 wickets respectively. Alongside Rajeshwari Gayakwad (25 wickets), the pair also played a crucial role in the absence of Jhulan Goswami, during India’s record-breaking 16-match ODI winning streak, taking 48 wickets between them.
“I think we really fed off each other during that phase,” says Pandey, about their successful partnership. “Ekta took the responsibility of being the senior bowler pretty seriously. Not just the spinners, but she made it a point to speak to the medium pacers as well.”
Often found lurking at point, Bisht is quick to let the bowlers know what the batswoman are trying to do, and how the bowlers need to adjust their lengths.
“Her impromptu suggestions on the field were always very helpful. She makes sure to let us know what is happening off the wicket – whether that ball is sticking or coming on nicely – and whether the batswoman are standing inside the crease, or outside. From point, she had the best view,” Pandey continues.
Since the ODI World Cup Bisht has somewhat fallen out of favour with the team management. Poonam Yadav has taken up the role of lead spinner, while Radha Yadav, the teenage left-arm spinner, has usurped her senior counterparts’ place. The 32-year old, however, is not too worried about this.
“Whatever decision they (the management) take is always for the benefit of the team,” she explains. “If they think I will be effective in certain conditions, they will make me play. At the end of the day, the team should do well…I will be ready for my chance when it comes.”
Even in the 2016 World T20, the left-arm spinner found herself on the bench for the first two games, when India beat Bangladesh and then lost to Pakistan. Brought back in to the XI for the match against England, the left-arm spinner picked up career best figures of 4 for 21, and followed it up with a miserly spell – while opening the bowling, none the less – of 1 for 12 against Windies.
The 2018 edition will be Bisht’s third World Cup. As the most experienced member of the Indian bowling attack, and additionally one of only four players in the squad to have previously played in the Windies, she will have an important role both on and off the field. Advice, encouragement and plans aside, Bisht’s calmness, and ability to keep people around her relaxed will be key to how India progress through the tournament.