Saika Ishaque, the left-arm spin bowler from Bengal, has been creating ripples in the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League (WPL).
But the man behind the Mumbai Indians player’s success has remained in the shadows.
Shiv Sagar Singh, the bowling coach of the Bengal U-15, U-19 and senior teams, has helped Saika at a critical time of her career. He trains her at his coaching camp at the Engineers’ Club in the Maidan. Saika speaks to her regularly from Mumbai, where the WPL is taking place.
Singh, known as Shibu in the Bengal cricket circles, has been Saika’s coach for the last two years — much before her stories started trending all over and she was hailed as the biggest discovery of the WPL.
Shiv Sagar Singh, the bowling coach of the Bengal U-15, U-19 and senior teams, has helped Saika at a critical time of her career
The 27-year-old from Park Circus is the current holder of the Purple Cap that goes to the leading wicket-taker of the competition, but coach Shibu has quietly remained behind the scenes.
A former left-arm spinner who played for Bengal and the India U-19 team alongside the likes of Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar and Aakash Chopra, Shibu is a low-profile person. He does not like sharing his stories on social media. Neither does he seek attention. Like in his playing days, he does his job quietly, without looking for recognition or adulation.
“I had no idea who Saika was when I received a call from her some time in 2021. She had been out of the Bengal team for about three years and was getting frustrated. She told me her career was going nowhere and requested for help. I said I would assist her but on one condition. She would have to listen to me and do what I tell her. That’s how we started and I soon saw that she has it in her,” said Shibu.
A former left-arm spinner who played for Bengal and the India U-19 team alongside the likes of Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar and Aakash Chopra, Shibu is a low-profile person
A lot of people, including TV commentators, have predicted that Saika should be making the transition from Mumbai Indians to Team India soon. If not anything else, next season, she is certain to get more than Rs 10 lakh that the team owned by Reliance bought her for.
“I set Saika certain guidelines. Once she started trusting my methods and doing what she was told, I saw that she is intelligent and a quick learner. She is quite spirited too. She made it back to the Bengal side, played for the East Zone and in the Women’s Challengers Series (considered to be a stepping stone to the national team). I was confident that she would get a WPL team,” Shibu recalled.
So what is it that he told Saika which took her to the next level? “T20 is a unique format where the requirements are different. I basically got her length modified and told her to vary the length according to the situation. After that, she did it on her own. Reading the batter’s mind and keeping a stump-to-stump line is important and she is good at these,” said Shibu, who was part of the Bengal team that finished runner-up in Ranji Trophy in 2006.
Saika (centre) with India and Bengal legend Jhulan Goswami (left)
How serious Saika is about her line of attack becomes clear from her mode of dismissals in the WPL. Of her nine victims in the first three games, seven were either bowled or LBW. She veered outside off stump in the second match against Royal Challengers Bangalore and her coach was quick to rebuke her when they spoke after that match. This course correction resulted in three wickets in the next match against Delhi Capitals as Saika clean bowled India stars Shafali Verma and Jemima Rodrigues.
Shibu has also tried to instil in Saika the virtues of hard work, no matter what the challenges are. That, in a way, is the story of his life. The youngest of five children of an employee of the Durgapur Steel Plant, he shifted to Kolkata when he was 12. He had no place to stay and hardly any money. He considers himself fortunate that people helped him out. Somebody arranged accommodation, somebody gave him money, somebody food and somebody else helped him with the kit. He is grateful to late Bengal captain Gopal Bose who let him stay in his house.
“Those days taught me vital lessons. I do not charge money from students who can’t afford it. I help by buying them kits. That’s what life has taught me. Don’t be greedy. Be happy with what you have and try to help others when you can. I am satisfied with what I have and the satisfaction multiplies when I see my students doing well at a higher level,” said this Reserve Bank of India employee, who lives in Salt Lake with his wife and two sons.
Shibu speaks little, but his belief in hard work is getting heard. The performance of his protégé is roaring.