Tragedy struck the Bishoo family in 1994 when Mohanlal passed away, which left the young Devendra, aged eight at that time, without any knowledge or direction about life.
The cricketing genome had been ingrained very early in his life by his father, who took him out onto the streets of Albion in the Berbice county of Guyana and bowl to him after he returned from school each day. It was his father Mohanlal’s dream for Devendra to represent West Indies at the highest level, for which the seeds were sown very early. His cricketing activities continued, but unlike most kids who grew up bonding with their fathers over a game of cricket, Bishoo lacked proper counsel having lost that guiding force early in his life.
Bishoo says he was “just an average kid in school”; he was neither “a popular kid” nor “an outstanding cricketer”. He wasn’t even too serious about his game. But what he was, and still remains, is a tough little nut that won’t crack. Life’s hard lessons, that, at a tender age, along with playing with boys much older to him, have moulded him into a resilient character – a trait that has served him well over his cricketing career and outside.
“I used to be playing with my older village people, with the older guys in the street and they always used to say that ‘you should go, join a club and play’,” says Bishoo in a chat with Cricbuzz. “I never took it seriously when I was about 10. I used to play in a cricket field but I used to play with soft balls.” Life then took a different turn for the Berbice-born lad, from a cricketing perspective, and two figures played key roles in facilitating that new direction. One was his mother’s brother – Munniram Lalbeharry, and the other was Vemen Walter – Manager of Albion Sports Club cricket team.
Starting off as a batsman during his young playing days, he got his first bat from his uncle who encouraged him to join a club. And while he was part of the club from the age of 12, it was during his Under-15 days that he became serious about his game, all thanks to his mentor. “I had my manager who kept encouraging me, kept motivating me. He’s like a brother, father and best friend for me. He’s everything to me, I thank him a lot for whatever he’s done for me. I don’t have words to express how much he’s done for me. I can remember the days when I used to go play cricket in town and he used to take money out of his own pocket and give me. I’m not shy to talk about that. Even when I was playing for the club he used to do the same. He used to give money to play cricket in town in Georgetown. My mom couldn’t afford much. My uncle, who wanted me to start playing cricket and who encouraged me to go (and play), he’s the one who bought all my cricket stuff for the first time, from white clothes to pads, everything. He’s the one who helped me with that.”
While there was plenty of support during his teen years, and he was also equipped skill-wise, but what Bishoo really needed was discipline. “My manager always believed in discipline. Self discipline, determination, dedication – he always believed in that and he always used to tell me ‘that’s the trick, if you focus on that and make it into a habit in you’re life, you’re going to become someone’,” says Bishoo. Waking up early, going for a run at 4:30 AM, head for the training after, before going to the school, that was his routine for the longest time. These lessons aren’t too different from what Rafael Nadal had while he was growing up playing tennis. In ‘Rafa: My Story”, the tennis star describes the hard yards he put in as a kid, or rather, was forced to, by his uncle Toni’s rather extreme ways, which sculpted the champion. On the contrary, Walter wasn’t as much a taskmaster as he was a mentor.
“He always used to tell me to go and train in the morning. I never used to understand why he would tell me to go and run in the morning,” reminisces Bishoo. “One day I asked him ‘why do you insist that I had to run so early in the morning? When I didn’t run you always used to say – make it a habit, you should do it every single day’. And he replied to me – ‘If you can get out of your bed at 4:30, 5:00 in the morning and go and run, it means a lot. It says a lot about your self-discipline. It shows a lot about your life, who you want to be’. I understood then and started working harder. I asked myself that if I could play for Guyana Under-15 and Under-19, why can’t I play for the Guyana senior team? And if I play for the Guyana senior team, in two years why I can’t play for West Indies?”
And he did. Having made his debut for Guyana in March 2008, playing alongside the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, Bishoo made an impact straightaway as he picked up a five-wicket haul in his maiden first-class innings. With sustained success, Bishoo was constantly knocking on the doors of the selectors who eventually answered, ahead of the 2011 World Cup. Having been named in the provisional 30-member squad for the world event, he failed to make the final cut. But serendipity ensured his arrival in Chennai, where he delivered upon his promise with a three-wicket haul on ODI debut against England, albeit in a losing cause. In what was a successful 2011, Bishoo picked up 65 wickets across international formats and was named the ICC Emerging Cricketer of the Year – an award he would dedicate to his late father.
Bishoo’s performances in recent years have made him an integral part of the West Indies Test team, although he’s yet to make it count in the limited-overs formats. © Getty
After the early success, 2012-2015 was a torrid time in Bishoo’s cricketing career. While his performances were on the retrograde, the likes of Sunil Narine and Shane Shillingford were quickly rising through the ranks, and the wristspinner had to endure a tough three-year period on the sidelines. “Nothing is easy in life. You have to work hard for what you want. You have to be tough, and know what you want to do. Sometimes it wouldn’t go the way you want but you got to keep believing in yourself and keep working towards your goal,” says Bishoo, whose determination didn’t waver despite his performances not matching up.
Bishoo eventually forced his way back into the West Indies team on the back of consistent performances in the domestic circuit and has been at it ever since making it back. A six-wicket haul against Australia in Roseau and eight wickets in an innings against Pakistan in a 10-wicket haul in Dubai are among his memorable achievements in the last few years. But the legspinner termed the five-wicket haul against Bangladesh way back in his debut season in 2011 as his best effort. “For me the one in Bangladesh where we won the match – that was one of my most memorable moments because we ended up winning the Test match and win the series. The one against Pakistan, we were in a position to win but we didn’t win. It was amazing to get eight wickets.”
Bishoo’s performances in recent years have made him an integral part of the West Indies Test team, although he’s yet to make it count in the limited-overs formats. His last T20I appearance was in November 2015 while his ODI numbers, despite denoting a good economy, don’t quite have the wickets to back that. With wrist-spinners being the latest fad in international cricket, Bishoo hopes he can join the bandwagon too and he’s banking on some of his recent learnings from one of the best in the industry. “Me and Imran [Tahir] play for the same team in the CPL. We share a good relationship. He’s a very nice guy, he’s an amazing guy. Every single day, he’s shown me how he’d go about bowling, the way he holds the ball and the different things he does with it, the different googlies that he bowls, the different legspinners that he bowls, sliders and stuff. I kind of pick up a lot but it’s in practice right now,” says Bishoo, going on to reflect on the importance of legspinners.
“It is very important in international cricket, in any cricket. You can see over the years all wrist-spinners are getting wickets. Legspinners are more wicket-taking bowlers, they will always take wickets. Kuldeep [Yadav] has been doing well, [Yuzvendra] Chahal has been doing well, Imran Tahir has been doing well, Rashid Khan, Adil Rashid. Leg-spin is a very difficult art, it’s very difficult to bowl. But I think (with leg spin) you have a higher chance of getting wickets. You can bowl legspin, you can bowl googly, you can bowl sliders, and there are so many other things you can do with wrist spin. And with legspinners, you tend to give the ball more air than finger spinners, you have plenty of natural variations when it comes to legspin,” he notes.
Success and failure have been alternating visitors in Bishoo’s cricketing home but the pragmatist that he is, he has been an unprejudiced host to both. Positives are taken from where they can be while the negatives have served as valuable lessons for the strong-willed Bishoo, who often dwells on his roots and his bonds with his well-wishers to keep his vehicle motoring along.
“It’s been a long road and I could thank everybody who’ve been there for me and helped me along the way. Especially my manager, and my uncle. He (my uncle) always used to look out for me, got me little things like sneakers, track pants, when I was under 15. He still does. He says ‘I have always bought for you and I will continue buying for you’. My mom who sacrificed a lot then. Now it’s my wife, here name is Sabrina. She’s very straightforward and she’s very supportive. When I have a bad game she just makes me relax and tries to make me understand how it goes sometimes. I know how the game goes and how it works. But sometimes you forget the little things, that you need to relax. She keeps me motivated. She, my manager, my mom and uncle, they have made the biggest difference in my life.”