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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

‘More parents will send their daughters to play’: Ekta Bisht on the rise of women’s cricket in India’s small towns

Ekta Bisht, the first cricketer from Uttarakhand to make it to the India women's team, speaks about the struggles involved in her own career, how things have improved in small towns these days and what ails the Indian team in big finals.

By: Sports Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 27, 2020 7:26:12 pm
India’s Ekta Bisht celebrates the dismissal of Pakistan’s Iram Javed during the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 match between India and Pakistan at County Ground in Derby, England, Sunday, July 02, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Ekta Bisht, the first Indian to take a hat-trick in T20Is, seven years before Deepak Chahar would replicate her feat with the men’s team, said the best thing that has happened for women’s cricket in recent years is the changed perception about the sport in India’s small towns.

Speaking on an Indian Express Facebook Live session on Saturday, she said, “These days, there are many women cricketers coming from small towns — Moga, Almora, Chandigarh, Haryana. Parents send their girl kids out to play cricket in these places now. What was earlier considered bad is now considered good. This support, which was earlier not there, is the best thing. This support will only increase, more and more parents will send their daughters out to play.”

READ | The Harmans of Moga: Dreams of cricketer Harmanpreet Kaur’s village

Now 34, Bisht said she herself had to overcome a lot of struggles to reach the national team and then the pinnacle of the sport — in 2017, she became the first Indian to be named in both the official ICC T20I and the ODI teams of the year.

“It was a big struggle — coming from a small town, then making a place for myself in Uttar Pradesh, then moving further forward, meeting so many new people. I didn’t even know how to bowl on turf wickets,” she said.

Calling her coach Liyakat Ali her inspiration, she said he was the one who made her realise that she could not let her background hold her back but instead had to build on whatever she had. “He played cricket also but didn’t get as good a platform as me,” she said about him.

Bisht added that her own family always had her back though. “After my father retired from the Army, he opened a tea stall. Our financial situation was not very good. There used to be samosas as well. We also used to go there sometimes,” she recounted.

‘Mental toughness the problem for our current team’

In 2011, soon after Bisht made her debut in an ODI against Australia, her father reportedly shut the stall. She would go on to build a reputation as a stingy bowler in international cricket over the next few years, picking up a few memorable bowling figures, especially against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

READ | ‘Cricket Samrat’ was a window to the sport in the Hindi heartland before TV, internet

Talking about her hat-trick vs Sri Lanka in 2012, she said, “I was a little nervous but seniors like Jhulan Goswami supported me, gave me confidence. After I took two wickets in two balls, we said we’ll take the hattrick. Jhulan herself was standing at deep midwicket, the catch went straight to her.”

“I didn’t think about the hat-trick much then. I was just thinking about keeping runs down as it was the last over. Much later I came to know that I had been the first Indian to take a T20I hat-trick, that felt good,” she added.

One the Indian team’s failures to cross the final hurdle in big tournament, Bisht said, “Our problem seems to be mental toughness. We play well, we do everything well, but we cannot hold our nerves in the final of big tournaments. We lose our game in pressure situations. We need to work on this as a team.”

READ | Crossing final hurdle in World Cups down to experience, preparation: Anjum Chopra

Saying that the upcoming crop of players show signs of breaking this jinx, she said, “There is some healthy competition between the spinners in the team, but the biggest competition everyone has is against herself, so that they can keep up the level of their performance every successive match. The younger spinners coming up are also showing great signs, they will take the team forward and win all the big trophies.”

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