“She is a tough girl:” WPL 2023’s Purple cap holder Saika Ishaque’s coach Shiv Sagar Singh

Saika Ishaque was planning to leave cricket in 2021 when Shiv Sagar Singh coached her to bring the best out of her. With 6 wickets in 2 games, Saika is now the purple cap holder in the Women's Premier League 2023.
Saika Ishaque after getting her third wicket in the first WPL match against Gujarat Giants | Image: WPL
Saika Ishaque after getting her third wicket in the first WPL match against Gujarat Giants | Image: WPL

Saika Ishaque has been the most promising young uncapped Indian player in the first six matches in WPL 2023. The left-arm spinner from Bengal has already taken 6 wickets in two matches for Mumbai Indians and repaid the faith shown by captain Harmanpreet Kaur. But, everything was not that good for her just 14 months ago. Shiv Sagar Singh, a former Bengal cricketer and coach of Saika Ishaque, shared how they both worked hard on the mental and analytical parts of her game to make her ready for platforms like the Women's Premier League.

Saika Ishaque was drafted in the 2022 Women's T20 Challenge for the Trailblazers under Harmanpreet Kaur after a good season with Bengal. However, things were not like that one year ago for the girl from Park Circus, Kolkata. Saika was actually thinking of leaving the game but decided to give it another try at the end of 2021. Shiv Sagar Singh was the rescuer for her.

Shiv Sagar is a former India U-19 and Ranji Trophy player who himself was a left-arm spinner. And, he knew how to shake her up mentally, before even giving her tips and tricks for a left-arm spin. "I first had to make sure I get her back mentally. And, when she was back mentally, the work became easier," Shiv Sagar Singh told Sportz Point in an exclusive interview.

"We both worked really hard last year on her bowling. I even took her to East Bengal nets to bowl against Ranji cricketers. And, she was not even letting Ranji cricketers hit her for boundaries, I knew she was ready for bigger stages," Shiv Sagar added.

Before making all the headlines after the inaugural WPL 2023 match against Gujarat Giants, Saika had already impressed captain Harmanreet Kaur in the practice matches she played. "She bowled well in those practice matches. She even bowled one of the super-overs as well. I think Harmanpreet was impressed with her performance in tough situations," Shiv Sagar expressed.

Shiv Sagar Singh with Saika Ishaque. Photo: Special Arrangement

Saika's 5 wickets among the six in the Women's Premier League, have been bowled or LBWs. Actually, 4 bowleds, one LBW and one caught dismissal among 6 till now. This percentage of clean bowleds might surprise others but not Shiv Sagar Singh.

"In women's cricket, it is tougher to hit if you do not give them room to free their arms. We practised bowling on those lines. It is a 'you miss, I hit' kind of plan."

Saika already has dismissed players like Sophie Devine, Annabel Sutherland and Georgia Wareham. This will surely make other franchise teams watch more of her and also plan different theories to face her. However, as per Shiv Sagar, if Saika can keep her composer and stick to the plans she makes with Harmanpreet, it will be tough for any batter to hit her.

"But, yes, she will obviously have to keep on improving and keep on learning from the great support staff Mumbai Indians have. Saika was really nervous before the first match. But, I knew once she bowls the first ball, she will be doing good. I feel, the more she plays, the better she will get."

When asked about Saika Ishqaue's future, Shiv Sagar feels she has a long way to go. But, she now only knows one way; that is being positive.

"She has a long way to go. But, she is a fighter. I know if she can adapt to new challenges, she will be doing good for her and her team," Shiv Sagar Singh added. "My advice for her would be to take one ball at a time rather than thinking of the whole over at a time. Keeping things simple will help her decide well in pressure situations."

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