From Kolkata’s slums to elite cricket: The story of India’s Saika Ishaque cricketer’s in 2023.


In a fairytale-like rags-to-riches story, Saika has worked her way up to be India’s breakthrough cricketer in 2023.

Mumbai, India – Park Circus, a bustling neighbourhood in the heart of India’s historic eastern metropolis Kolkata, is known as a Muslim ghetto by its inhabitants and the city’s Hindu middle-class populace.

Some of the poorest slums of the city are found here at the cross-section of Kolkata’s central and southern districts in a mix of posh enclaves, malls and restaurants.

In a conservative and marginalised environment, especially for women, it is nothing short of remarkable that one of the neighbourhood’s own, Saika Ishaque, picked up cricket at a young age.

What’s more, the “ziddi” (headstrong) player from Park Circus went on to become one of Indian cricket’s breakout stars and rags-to-riches success stories of the year.

In a fairytale-like year, Saika signed a contract with the Mumbai Indians franchise in the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL), completed a title-winning campaign with them and made an impressive debut for India in the recent T20 series against England.

The 28-year-old left-arm spinner now finds herself knocking on the doors of the Test team as India look to build a dominant squad.

Botswana vs Sierra Leone Live Score: Welcome to the live coverage of Match 7 of Africa Cricket Association T20I Cup, 2023. Match will start on 15 Dec 2023 at 12:30 PM
Venue : Willowmoore Park, Benoni

Botswana squad

Karabo Motlhanka, Manroux Kasselman, Vinoo Balakrishnan, Dhruvkumar Maisuria, Karabo Modise, Leano Maphane, Reginald Nehonde, William Nkosana, Valentine Mbazo, Katlo Piet, Losika Makgale, Michael Badenhorst, Mmoloki Mooketsi, Raynier Swart
Sierra Leone squad –
Alusine Turay, Lansana Lamin, Yegbeh Jalloh, George Ngegba, Ibrahim Kamara, Raymond Coker, Samuel Conteh, John Bangura, Abass Gbla, Chernoh Bah, George Sesay, Ibrahim Sesay, John Lassayo, Miniru Kpaka

“Saika has had a rough and tough childhood,” Goswami told Al Jazeera.

Goswami knows Saika better than most, being her former teammate in the Bengal side and current bowling coach at Mumbai Indians.

“Her family’s financial condition has always been utterly abject. She lost her father at a very young age, and coming from such a place where having two square meals a day or studying or playing is a tall ask, it’s quite incredible to see a girl having come this far and play cricket for India.”

Goswami has watched Saika’s journey unfold from up close.

The 41-year-old remembers a pre-teen Saika lugging a bat almost twice her size for practice sessions at Vivekananda Park in southern Kolkata.

“For an 11- or- 12-year-old, she had a lot of pluck, the kind of X factor you look for in young cricketers. She would come to the nets holding her mother’s hand and always used the masculine gender for Hindi words as if she were a boy: khaunga, jaunga, karunga [I will eat, go, do].”

Such slip-ups are still part of her speech. It is partly down to her upbringing in the bylanes of Park Circus, where most of her childhood friends were boys, a rarity for Muslim women there.

Her childhood was spent playing gully cricket, riding motorcycles and strutting around the neighbourhood with the air of a local gang boss.

‘I’m here to take wickets’

To all that rizz, add a penchant for dying her hair red, green, purple and other hues.

“She has a ‘bindaas’ [carefree] character,” Harmanpreet Kaur, the India captain, who also leads Mumbai Indians, said on the eve of Saika’s India debut last week.

Echoing Saika’s iconic quip, “I’m a bowler. I’m here to take wickets” from her WPL stint, Harmanpreet added: “She has a wicket-taking mindset.”

Saika ended the T20 series with five wickets, three of which came in the third T20, which India won.

The bold spinner “loves a challenge”, according to England and Mumbai Indians all-rounder Natalie Sciver-Brunt.

“Even in her debut series for India, I saw her attack the stumps and make life difficult for batters.”

Charlotte Edwards, former England captain and incumbent head coach of Mumbai Indians, believes Saika’s personality shines through her bowling.

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