As the Indian women’s team marches on ahead in the Women’s Cricket World Cup, two unsung heroes from the defense forces are an integral part of its success story. One is Flight Lieutenant Shikha Pandey who is Jersey Number 12 of the Indian Women Cricket Team and also an officer in the Indian Air Force. The other is a pocket sized dynamo called Ekta Bisht who sports the Number 8 and is the daughter of a Army Havaldar who actually had to sell tea to supplement his meager pension so that his daughter could follow her cricketing dreams. This is their story.
Shikha – Flying on and off the field
Daughter of a Kendriya Vidyalaya teacher, Shikha was raised in Goa – the land of pristine beaches and natural beauty. Her inclination towards cricket came from her high school days when she represented Goa in the inter-state competitions in 2004. This was the time when Women's cricket was in its nascent stages and did not generate much interest. A bright student always, she scored over 90% in her class 10th and 12th exams, but her passion for cricket overrode her interest in academics. Fortunately her family supported her decision.
In college she opted for Engineering and simultaneously maintained a rigorous fitness routine along with cricket practice both in the mornings and evenings. This was stressful but Shikha never, gave up. In her first year she played for the college team and proved her mettle. In the second year while playing for the Under-19 tournament, Purnima Rao, the then South Zone selector and currently India’s coach, saw a spark in young Shikha and wanted her to try for the Indian team. He sowed the seed of wearing the India colours into her mind.
However Shikha soon found herself at crossroads – whether to pursue her passion - Cricket, or to complete her education and take up a job. This dilemma made her refuse many offers from multinational companies. At this juncture she was also representing the Board President's XI against England in 2010 and hence decided to take a year off to find her calling.
Shikha’s decision to devote more time to Cricket paid dividends as she got an offer to attend a month-long camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore with the India women's team. In 2011, she was again selected to play the Board President's XI against West Indies, but unfortunately was not selected for the Indian team for their England tour in 2010. She then decided to take the Air Force common admission test with the aim of wearing the blue beret (if not the blue India cap) and becoming an ATC officer.
Air Force life was demanding leaving little time for cricket. However, she did not give up on her passion and fortunately with the support from the Services Sports Control Board and the Air Force Sports Control Board she became the first woman to be a part of the Services cricket team. She got leave to prepare for the domestic season and gave a stellar performance in Goa's ascent to the Plate Group knockouts of the 2013-14. Here at Dhanbad she was spotted by the national selectors and was given the chance of a lifetime to be a part of the first of the three Twenty20 Internationals against Bangladesh at Cox’s Bazar. From here started the journey of a lifetime!
Today, Flt Lt Shikha Pandey is a renowned right-arm medium pacer and a middle-order batswoman in the National Women’s Cricket Team. She has been capped over 50 times in all formats of the game and played a major role in India’s win against South Africa in 2014. In this year’s Women’s World Cup , she has bagged 2-for 35 against England and then followed it up with 3-40 in the crucial match against South Africa. She has not yet clicked with the bat but that will come as the tournament progresses.
Ekta Bisht – Spin Queen from the Hills
From being the daughter of a tea-seller to emerge as one of India’s main strike bowlers, Bisht’s life story has everything that a film director would crave for in a hit biopic. The story of the diminutive left hander from Almora is one of dreams.
Born in a remote village in Almora (near Nainital) to Kundanlal and Tara Bisht, she began playing cricket at six, often playing with boys and receiving renown as the only girl in the all-male local team. Unable to play due to lack of open ground in the hills, she would often practice in an empty plot. It was there that she was spotted by coach Liaqat Ali who took her under his wing and got her to the Bahuguna Stadium to practice.
Initially a medium pacer, she took to left arm spin bowling only on the insistence of her coach. However, her humble family had barely enough to make ends meet and nothing left over to afford Ekta’s coaching and cricket. Her father Kundan Lal , a veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, then decided to open up a tea shop to supplement his meager pension and now Ekta could devote herself to her passion. Already her left arm spin was bamboozling batsmen at school and college state level and she soon graduated to being the Captain of the Uttarakhand tem and then went on to represent UP from 2007 -10. Her clinching moment came in 2011 when she was selected for the Indian team and donned cap No 94. In Oct 12 she become the first Woman to claim a hatrick in the T -20 World Cup.
Her new found fame and some support from sponsors meant that her father could close his tea shop, but Ekta continued her rise and went on to don the Indian cap 90 times. Her best moment came when she too 5 wickets for just 8 runs against Pakistan in Colombo in 2017 and followed it up with a 5- 18 against her favorite rivals in the World Cup match this July. This allowed India to defend its meager total of just 169 against Pakistan.
As the Woman’s world Cup draws on to its clinching moments – jersey Numbers 8 and Jersey No 12 of Ekta and Shikha will play a big role in India’s success. They are the women achievers who have reached this position through a journey of struggle and hard work. They have fought the odd and come out victorious – both on and off the field.
We salute both of them and look forward to seeing them and the Indian Cricket team holding aloft the World Cup.