Mohammed, the Unorthodox Pathbreaker

WICB Media Release

Leading wicket-taker in Twenty 20 Internationals.
First West Indies cricketer to take five wickets in a T20I match, and also the only Caribbean cricketer to take two five-wicket hauls.
Only cricketer to take 100 T20I wickets.
If someone were to hazard guesses about the answers to the above queries, what would they be? Shahid Afridi, Darren Sammy and Afridi again – most cricket aficionados would rattle off.

Except, the only answer to all of the above is Anisa Mohammed.

Statistics in women’s cricket might not be comparable to those of their male counterparts, mainly due to the contrast in the number of matches played. But despite that, Anisa, who has featured in 83 T2  0Is, recently became the first bowler to reach the 100-figure mark. In comparison, Afridi, who leads the men’s bowling chart, has taken 97 wickets in 98 T20Is.

The West Indies women’s off spinner achieved the feat while spearheading a brilliant effort to help the side beat Pakistan Women by four runs in a close Group B encounter of the World T 20 2016 in Chennai.

“It felt really great to have achieved the milestone,” a beaming Anisa tells Wisden India. “More importantly it matters because it came at a time when my team needed the wickets.”

After making her international début in 2003, Anisa’s journey was not always smooth. Born and raised in Maraj Hill, a small village in East Trinidad, Anisa was introduced to the game by her parents, who both played cricket in Trinidad and Tobago, at the club level.

Being exposed to cricket since a very young age, it didn’t take long for Anisa and her twin, Alisa, to be completely smitten by the game. The twins were so enamoured that they decided to be a part of a women’s community team with a few members from the extended family – MAAAD Rangers they called it, where the acronym stood for Melissa (the club president’s sister-in-law), Alisa, Alison (her mother’s cousin), Anisa and Danny (the manager).

“People in Trinidad love their cricket,” says Anisa, whose younger twin brothers Ashmeed and Ashmeer are also cricketers. “It was good fun, I was the captain of the side, and my cousins and other women in our community would all be eagerly waiting to play those matches.”

Anisa Mohammed on her unorthodox action: “That’s a part of me and I’m not going to change it. That unusual jump is what gives me the momentum to go forward. It’s my own thing, I’ve never imitated anyone.”

A steady rise through age-group cricket in T&T meant an international call-up wasn’t far away. Making her One-Day International debut as a 15-year-old, Anisa impressed with figures of 10-6-4-1, against Japan Women. “It was like a dream,” Anisa says of her debut. “Back home, everyone was so happy. But I had to ensure that I maintained a level of consistency throughout my career.”

Cut to 2016, and Anisa, now 27, has shattered many records, garnered several accolades and pioneered women’s cricket in the Carribean. And yes, the consistency has been maintained throughout. In 93 ODIs, Anisa has taken 130 wickets at an impressive average of 17.96. Often called upon to break partnerships, she has 100 sticks (at 14.96) to her name in T20Is.

Although Anisa rates her maiden five-wicket haul in T20Is – against South Africa in 2009 – highly, her most memorable performance is the ODI career-best 7 for 14 against Pakistan in the final of the World Cup Qualifier in 2011 in Dhaka.

“In any sport, you can never tell when your last game will be, so whenever I go out to play, I approach it as my last game and I want it to be my best performance,” she says, revealing her mantra for success.

However, success on the international stage masked the rugged road Anisa has had to travel to the top. Coming from a family of modest means, it was tough for her parents to meet the needs of the cricketing twins.

“Getting to practice from where we lived was almost over two hours,” recalls Anisa. “There were no sponsors for women’s cricket back then, so when it came to gear, we had to borrow them from other players because it was a lot for our parents to [spend] for myself and my sister. We didn’t have different pairs of shoes, so initially, we used the same shoes we wore to school, to play cricket.”

Both sisters carried on with the limited resources at their disposal, braving the challenges and putting aside the thoughts of giving up. “Our parents taught us to never give up, to pursue our dreams despite the hardships, and that’s what we’ve done so far,” she says with a hint of pride in her voice.

Alisa, also an off spinner, made her regional debut for the T&T side in the 2007-08 season, but a West Indies call-up remained elusive. Although Anisa beat her sister to an early international debut, she insists there is only room for healthy competition between the siblings.

With her unique bowling action, Anisa has long been turning heads. She leaps within a second of her delivery stride, perhaps unnecessarily, then there is a brief pause before running further and releasing the ball. The approach could be likened to that of Paul Adams, the former South Africa chinaman bowler, but the pause after the leap is rather distinct in Anisa’s action. There is an element of caution as well – bowling from the back crease rather than the popping crease has helped Anisa avoid no balls throughout her career.

“That’s a part of me and I’m not going to change it,” she says of her unorthodox action. “That unusual jump is what gives me the momentum to go forward. It’s my own thing, I’ve never imitated anyone.”

She is a huge Rafael Nadal fan and idolises Saqlain Mushtaq. In 2013, Anisa had a chance to hone her skills under the former Pakistan off spinner’s guidance when the West Indies Cricket Board arranged a three-week camp for spinners in the Caribbean.

“A lot of basic stuff that you wouldn’t normally hear from other coaches, he taught me that, and since then I’ve been bowling a lot better,” she says. “I quite agree with him, ‘what works for you, is what works for you’. So it was stuff like adding more revolutions on the ball or just tossing the ball in the air, how you use your fingers for different variations… it wasn’t about changing the way I bowled, but a few technical aspects that helped me a lot.”

Although Anisa has come a long way in her career and still has cricket left in her, she aspires to be associated with the game in some capacity after retirement. A WICB certified level I coach, she also dabbles as a commentator in T&T matches back home.

“I wouldn’t want to play cricket for 15-16 years and then fall out of it completely, so it would be nice if I can give back to the sport in my own way. I’m enjoying my commentary stints back home and looking forward to completing level II coaching. I want to inspire girls to take up cricket and make them realise the importance of wearing maroon.”

First Published On Wisden India.

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