Women's Premier League is finally a REALITY!
For numerous years, a tournament, similar to the lines of the Indian Premier League, was something that all the Indian domestic players and international stars were eagerly waiting for.
A league that promised to give the domestic players wings to fly and a platform to showcase their talent got off to a DREAM start, with the Mumbai Indians thumping the Gujarat Giants by 143 runs to kickstart the carnival.
While all the focus and attention was on the glitz and glamour of the opening ceremony and the fireworks by the international players in the first innings that powered Mumbai to a mammoth total, a young girl in Saika Ishaque was feeling the butterflies in her tummy once she stepped onto the field in the second innings.
And the much-awaited moment finally arrived as Harmanpreet Kaur handed over the ball to her for the fourth over with the Giants reeling at 11 for the loss of three wickets and an unfortunate injury to Beth Mooney.
The stage was set, and the nerves were rocketing sky-high as Saika rigorously spun the ball in her hand before marking her run-up. Years of hard work and gruelling sessions under the sun boiled down to this moment, and the 27-year-old could feel a new chapter unfolding in front of her eyes.
With a couple of skips in the lead-up to the crease and a clean, uncomplicated action, the first ball of her spell was right on target that nearly got her the wicket of Dayalan Hemalatha.
The oohs and ahhs of the fans across the DY Stadium could be felt loud and clear as they rallied behind their home team in this opening fixture.
Well, who would have thought that a young girl from Kolkata would receive such massive applause after nearly picking up a wicket off the first delivery? But such is the beauty of the league that you find home in an unknown city and an abundance of love from their loyal fans.
The next ball was a sharp caught and bowled opportunity from Annabel Sutherland that goes down, and with it, her world also comes crashing down.
The sense of disappointment of dropping the catch was evident, but the reaction and the smile that followed just showcased the belief she had in her ability to bounce back from the initial jitters.
And a couple of balls later, it was full and straight to Sutherland yet again, and this time the Australian batter played all over it and was bowled, giving Saika her first wicket of the Women's Premier League.
First wicket of the league✅
A bear hug from the skipper and Jhulan Goswami applauding it from the dugout, this is was daydreams are made up of.
But she was not done yet, and neither were the Mumbai Indians in their domination. What followed in the next 60 minutes was a masterclass on spin bowling from an uncapped left-arm spinner and a Kiwi magician, Amelia Kerr, that enthralled fans around the world.
While the leg spinner bamboozled the opposite with her googlies, Saika was awarded for her ability to bowl straight and attack the stumps.
19 balls later, her figures read four wickets for 11 runs at one of the biggest stages in her career to date, and it was a perfect end to this fairytale as she scalped the last wicket of Monica Patel to give Mumbai an emphatic win in front of their home crowd.
"The feeling is great because it was our first game, and I was very nervous since morning, and the plan was to bowl the first ball in the right area. So I was confident that if I could do that, the rest would follow," she said on Mumbai Indians' official Twitter account.
Well, the mantra has always been this simple for Saika, who struggled to carve a name for herself in a star-studded Bengal playing XI for years, bowling stump to stump.
Plying her trade in age-group cricket for her stateside, Saika graduated to the senior level after consistently performing in the Under-19 and Under-23 sides.
And with millions of eyes watching her weave her magic, she stuck to her basics and rattled the Giants with some nagging line and length to script a new page in her cricketing career.
Well, it does not come as any surprise to me as she was indeed touted to be a player to watch out for in the future after locking horns against Bengal in the summit clash of the Under-19 domestic tournament.
In her six over-spell on a belter of a wicket at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Hyderabad, she challenged the Mumbai batters to the absolute T and ensured Bengal made the opposition earn every single run in the 87-run chase.
Despite the match not going in favour of Bengal, Saika earned a place in the 20-member national camp that followed, inching one step closer to her dream of donning the national colours.
The young girl who has grown up with the hardships of coming from a humble background and carving a niche for herself, the journey has been riddled with bumpy rides and numerous ups and down.
However, one thing that has been constant is her undying love for the game and her immense faith in her ability.
And on 4th March 2023, when the world of women's sport etched a glorious chapter in the record books, a young girl from Kolkata was living her dream of shining the brightest on the momentous occasion.
Two days into the Women's Premier League, and it has already unearthed a domestic talent.
Bring it on, world!
It is the start of something incredibly special for Indian cricket, and there ain't any doubt that the league will fuel a million dreams.