Anisa Mohammed – a limited-overs legend

Anisa Mohammed, the West Indies off-spinner, retired with several records to her name and a rich legacy.

For the moment when a bowler stands at the top of their mark, a coach prescribes focus and calm. Anisa Mohammed takes this idea and seems to extend it into her run-up: Freeze the frame at the start of her action and you’ll be reminded of a yoga pose. Hands raised together, leg folded. The balance and equilibrium of vrikshasana, the tree pose.

Anisa Mohammed's bowling action, 2013. Photo: ICC
Anisa Mohammed’s action in 2013. Photo: ICC

This position is a mark of steadiness. Fitting, because for two decades, Anisa has been steady in her conviction and performance to become a limited-overs stalwart. Years ago, a school teacher told her girls don’t play cricket. Boy, was that proved wrong.

This position lives inside The Jump. The Jump is Anisa’s calling card. A leap early in her short run-up, a burst of energy directing off-spin at the batter.  

Over the 20 years of her career, the Anisa Mohammed Jump has changed. It has started her run-up, appeared a couple of steps in, been abandoned on the advice of some coaches, and reappeared following new counsel. It’s been more pronounced and less, the swing of arms once more, then less. The arms have been high, above her head, and at shoulder level (she has T-shirts of this version and I want one).

Anisa says it lends her action momentum. It certainly made her unique. But more than the idiosyncrasy of the action, it should be remembered for the 305 wickets that (probably) followed it – because those numbers are those of an all-time great.

Anisa announced her retirement this month, to surprisingly little fanfare. Such, perhaps, is the lot of an off-spinner in a batter’s game, especially one who has played so much of her career outside of the television cameras, for a team who isn’t one of the traditional women’s cricket powerhouses. So, here are some of her records to make a bit of a noise in her name.

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In T20Is, Anisa was the first person, male or female, to 100 wickets. The first woman to 125 as well. Until recently, she was the highest wicket-taker in the format. Nobody has more five-wicket hauls than her (3).  

In ODIs, she retires as the third-highest wicket-taker (180), joint with Australian legend Cathryn Fitzpatrick, whose numbers she decided to chase back when she started. She bows out as the all-time leading spinner. She took at least four wickets in a match more times than any other woman (13).

During the 2022 World Cup, she became only the fourth woman to 300 international wickets. She was the first woman from the West Indies to 100 ODI wickets. Unsurprisingly, she’s the team’s leading wicket-taker across formats.

Women’s cricket is evolving so fast that many of her records might soon be consigned to history. Since she last played a 20-over international, back in 2021 – ages ago in a game that is seeing exponential growth – Megan Schutt and Nida Dar have been sharing the record she previously held for most wickets in the format, and Ellyse Perry has caught up with her figures.

She also never quite found a place in the era of T20 leagues (although she did lead the Knight Riders to the inaugural WCPL title in 2022), so there might be a temptation to minimise her achievements as simply a consequence of her longevity (she made her international debut as a 15-year-old back in 2003) or dismiss her records as being aided by weak oppositions, slow surfaces and unpolished batting of an amateurish era.

But this would do her a great disservice.

Because players like Anisa were so integral to fashioning the women’s T20I game in the first decade or so of its being. A wicketkeeper in her childhood, who took to spin bowling as a teen and grew up with the game, waiting for professionalism to catch up with her passion, she has set a high bar for a more privileged generation of players to strive for. Until 2017, when the sport took a sharp turn upwards, she was the most successful bowler in the format. At a time when spinners often dominated the wickets charts, she thrived not only because batters fell being forced to generate their own power, but also because she could outlast and outfox them in most games of nerves by doing simple things right.

West Indies teams, be it men or women, are often encumbered by the expectation of “flair” – to have it, to be it. A shortish off-spinner, with her full sleeves, neat hair and dainty, idiosyncratic run-up, quiet and bespectacled off the field, a primary school teacher in a previous life, Anisa doesn’t easily fit that mould. But perhaps, there were few in that side as ambitious or confident as her.

I don’t have the figures to prove it, only memories perhaps influenced by recency bias: She was often handed the ball at the death, asked to defend totals and step up in the big moments, which she did and celebrated almost as hard as Imran Tahir.    

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“I said to myself I am a game changer,” she said after bowling the 48th over against England in the 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup, with eight runs to defend and two wickets left. “I am not going to leave it up to anyone else. I just need six balls. And of those six balls, I just need two to be good. I just had to keep believing in myself, and I had to calm myself and just say one ball at a time, and I was able to get the job done.” West Indies won by seven runs.

Society isn’t always kind to ambitious displays in women, so I have always found it refreshing how there has never been any false humility in any of my interactions with her. She has always appeared sharply aware of the next record to target, was vocal about her goals, and celebrated her wins.   

Days after she retired, the West Indies Cricket Board announced a plan to move towards equal pay for the men and women. Anisa won’t benefit from it, but her younger colleagues have her, and those like her, to thank for it, for bringing the sport this far.