The wiki-list of notable people from Almora makes the vaguest of connections between the hilly speck of Uttarakhand and the luminaries it flaunts about. Rabindranath Tagore sneaks into the list because he had purchased a house during the first World War. Jawaharlal Nehru because he spent half a year in the Almora prison. Mahendra Singh Dhoni because his father was originally from a village called Lwali in the district. Fifth from the bottom of the pile is someone who has spent all her life in Almora, but the name would hardly register, unless you watched her skin through Pakistan’s top order and orchestrate a 95-run win over them in the Women’s World Cup match in Derby on Sunday.
It’s Ekta Bisht, who as the list dutifully informs is the first international woman cricketer from Almora , and that she is a left-handed batswoman and left-arm orthodox spinner.
While she is indeed the first — and only — international woman cricketer from Almora, in fact all of Uttarakhand, Bisht isn’t exactly an “orthodox” bowler, though it’s a generic term for all left-arm spinners who aren’t bowling chinaman. She is very much a modern left-arm spinner, with a noticeably low-slung, round-arm action, the ball fizzing than floating through the air. The action, she has said, is a product of nature. In the chilly Almora winters, she had to play with several layers of woollen, and hence it was literally difficult to bowl with a high-arm action. Upon pitching it skids than breaks away. The degree of turn is negligible, even on a wearing Derby surface where spinners of both sides purchased precocious turn. But then, she was never enticed by turn because on the damp grounds in Almora, it was impossible to turn the ball.
But on a turning track, Bisht’s lack of turn played the biggest mischief. Pakistan’s batsmen, despite their morbid familiarity with her — she had scythed through them with a five-for in the World Cup qualifiers at Colombo a few months ago — searched and stabbed for the non-existent turn. Opener Ayesh Zafar expected the ball to spin away from her, but was pinned by the slider, just like it was in Colombo in February this year. Maybe, the memories of that rout were still fresh in their mind that Pakistan’s batswomen played her like they’d seen a ghost.
Sidra Nawaz was then fooled by the angle. This one was delivered wider off the crease, and the batsman expecting it to spin away from her after pitching padded up. But it was her arm-ball that rushed onto her pads. Then, for a change, she flighted one up to Iram Javed, who was beaten purely by change of pace. Thus Pakistan, chasing a modest 170, plummeted to 14 for 4, a juncture from where they required nothing but a miracle to escape victorious.
Then as if suddenly feeling compassionate towards the opponents, skipper Mithali Raj took her off the attack, her first-spell figures reading 4-1-4-3. By the time, she returned, Pakistan were knee deep in trouble, the defeat all but a formality. They were teetering at 46/7. In the second over, she completed her five-for with the scalps of Nashra Sandhu and Diana Baig off successive deliveries. Then she almost wrapped up the match, only for Deepti Sharma to grass a sitter of Sadia Yousuf. But it only served the purpose of Pakistan staving off a 100-run defeat. Not that the 95-run defeat was any less embarrassing.
As Mansi Joshi bowled Sana Mir to complete a memorable win, Bisht rushed towards her best friends in the side, fellow spinners Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma. The camaraderie is understandable, but in conditions perceived to be seamer-friendly, India spinners have forged a formidable partnership. Together, they have accounted for 10 of the 13 wickets this World Cup. It owed to not only their individual and combined proficiency, but the trust the skipper and the team think tank had in the spinners.
“India have always banked on spinners, irrespective of the wicket. Whether in Australia, South Africa (or elsewhere), spinners have done exceptionally well,” Mithali had reasoned before the team’s departure.
Bisht and Co, however, glossed over an otherwise rare, shoddy batting effort by India. In the first two matches, they had looked quite assured dealing with both the seaming ball and the spinning one. Here they struggled against both. “It was just a one-off day,” remarked Raj, who though was mighty pleased with the lower-order resistance. “Our last five added some 60 runs, which proved very useful in the end. It’s also reassuring that out lower-order can hang around,” she pointed out. Even more reassuring is that her spinners are wreaking havoc.
Brief Scores: India 169 for nine in 50 overs (Punam Raut 42, Sushma Verma 33; Nashra Sandhu 4/26, Sadia Yousuf 2/30) beat Pakistan 74 all out in 38.1 overs (Sana Mir 29, Nahida Khan 23; Ekta Bisht 5/18, Mansi Joshi 2/9) by 95 runs.