Diana Edulji. Shubhangi Kulkarni. Neetu David. Deepa Marathe. Nooshin Al Khadeer.
These are the names that Ekta Bisht could be counted amongst.
Edulji, and Kulkarni are regarded as India’s finest first-generation spinners. The pair are India’s highest wicket takers in Tests with 63 and 60 wickets respectively. David is an Indian legend, with 141 ODI and 40 Test wickets (the latter in just 10 Tests). She, Marathe (nee Kulkarni) and Al Khadeer all played pivotal roles in taking India to the final of the 2005 World Cup, India’s best ever performance.
These women are counted amongst India’s best spin bowlers. Ekta Bisht has what it takes to be part of the club by the time she hangs up her cap.
Hailing from the chilly climes of Almora in Uttarakhand, Bisht is the only cricketer from the recently-formed state to play for India. Her first steps in the game began as they do for most youngsters: games of gully cricket. Except that Bisht was the only girl to play among the boys.
Her skills graduated under the tutelage of Liyakat Ali Khan, who sometimes made her bowl for up to four hours a day, two in the morning and two in the evening. This rigorous routine came in handy when she started representing Uttar Pradesh, a team known for being a factory of left-arm spinners.
But Bisht always managed to stand out, thanks to her unconventional bowling style. Standing only 5’1’’, Bisht prefers to bowl flat, often firing the ball in with a low trajectory. The stumps are her primary target, not the outside edge, and she often employs an exaggerated round-arm action to get the ball to skid more.
Which is not to say that she cannot flight and turn the ball. On surfaces that offer a little bit of grip, she puts enough revolutions on the ball to beat the outside edge, while always threatening the inner one. She showed as much in the last World T20 in India, where she took four wickets against England on a sluggish Dharamsala surface, hitting or beating the outer edge in three of those.
Bisht has been a regular member of the Indian team since her debut in 2011. That is a feat in itself, considering how volatile Indian selection has been in the early part of the decade. She has more than a hundred international wickets across both ODIs and T20s (62 and 45 respectively). With her left-arm spin that gets the ball turning on an occasional basis, she has been the constant in a spin attack that has seen faces come and go. She is the only spinner who played the 2013 World Cup to make it through to 2017.
When she first represented the Indian Railways team, Bisht was an understudy to David, who was playing her last few seasons of domestic cricket. That meant limited opportunities in a competitive team. “Ekta had to struggle a lot to get ahead, but now she is the best spinner in the team”, said David, which is high praise coming from one of India’s all time greats. “The best part about her is that she is ready to take on challenges.”
David is talking about Bisht’s ability to bowl equally well with the brand new ball as she does with the old. Her preferred flat trajectory makes it difficult for the batters to get under the ball and hit her over the top, making her a good option when the field restrictions are in place. More often than not, Bisht is captain Mithali Raj’s go-to woman when the pace bowlers have gone for runs and she needs a clamp to staunch the bleeding. In almost half of her 40 ODIs, she has either opened the bowling or come on as the first change.
“Whenever the pacers get hit, Ekta is the only one who can handle the situation”, said David, who has seen Raj turn to Bisht in such fashion countless times in domestic cricket.
In the recent ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, Bisht achieved a milestone in fine style. On 49 wickets before the game, she scalped five against Pakistan to become only the ninth Indian bowler to cross 50 ODI wickets. Another five scalps, and she will be one of the top five wicket-takers for India in ODI cricket. And she is the only Indian to claim a T20 hat trick, a feat she notched up against Sri Lanka in the 2012 World T20.
“The cricket played today is at a much higher level than what we or Diana di’s generation played” added David, emphasizing the value of Bisht’s contributions. But does she have it in her to be counted among India’s best ever? “Yes, she can. Whether it is at home or abroad, she adjusts to any situation. So in future Ekta could be in that list.”
Bisht will be central to India’s campaign in the upcoming World Cup. Should current trends in the weather continue, Bisht will be a handful should pitches have any moisture on them. Bisht will also have to play the role of senior spinner; she has the most caps among India’s spin quartet.
David’s biggest legacy is not the number of wickets she took though; it is being part of a World Cup finalist team. Bisht, playing her second World Cup, has an opportunity to put more than a bagful of wickets against her name.