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One last Jhulan Goswami day—pioneer swing bowler who lifted women’s cricket in India

A pioneer in seam and swing bowling with a longevity comparable to James Anderson and Richard Hadlee, Goswami’s retirement marks a seismic shift in India’s pace stocks.

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The year 2022 has seen many sports personalities retire — be it tennis’ Serena Williams and Roger Federer, football’s “Mr. West Ham” Mark Noble, or cricket’s Ross Taylor and Mithali Raj. But it is Indian cricketer Jhulan Goswami’s exit that feels the most poetic and personal. Losing the 2017 International Cricket Council Women’s World Cup to England is one ‘regret’ she has.

“In May 2009, I told India head coach Sudha Shah that I will retire after the 2009 World Cup. She said, ‘Are you serious?’ I asked why she would say that, and she replied, ‘No, dekhenge kab chhodte ho aap (Let’s see when you leave).’ I haven’t been able to retire ever since,” she had told Gaurav Kapur in an episode of Breakfast with Champions (BwC) in 2019.

Now, at 39, Goswami announced earlier this week that Saturday’s third and final Women’s Championship One-Day International against England at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, would be her last as an international cricketer.

Having already played her last T20 international in 2018 and her last Test match in 2021, Goswami leaves behind a storied legacy of being the only bowler to break the 200-mark in matches played and the 250-mark in wickets taken in women’s ODIs. South African seamer Shabnim Ismail ranks a distant second at 191 wickets, while Goswami’s recently retired teammate, Mithali Raj, is the only player with more ODI appearances.

A pioneer in seam and swing bowling with a longevity comparable to England’s James Anderson and New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee, Goswami’s retirement marks a seismic generational shift in India’s pace stocks. Shikha Pandey was already dropped from the main team in 2021, and the rest of the attack is under the age of 30.

But what makes Goswami’s rise and domination over a 20-year-long career even more special is that she was a relatively late bloomer, akin to more modern examples like India’s up-and-coming express pacer Umran Malik and Pakistan’s Haris Rauf. Goswami did not take up cricket until she was 15, stating to Kapur that she was inspired by “seeing girls play” at the 1997 Women’s World Cup final, which took place in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, her home state.

Part of this delay was due to the fact that she came from a family with no prior experience or interest in cricket. It was also due to her birthplace being Chakdaha, a small town not exactly known for producing great cricketers.

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Batting the ‘question mark’ away

Ahead of India’s 2022 Women’s World Cup campaign, in an interview with The Cricket Monthly, Goswami had revealed to Annesha Ghosh that her ultimate goal was to “lift the women’s game” in India, a country where a “question mark” arises “over everything women do”.

These ‘question marks’ came up for Goswami too. On the one hand, she had to deal with the standard scepticism and sexism from family members and peers. Fortunately, coach Swapan Sadhu, who believed in her natural abilities as a pacer due to her “high arm bowling action”, offered her parents a compromise that he be allowed a two-year buffer period to help develop Goswami’s cricket ambitions.

On the other hand, she faced the logistical challenge of taking a 2.5-hour train ride and multiple bus rides every day to a Kolkata-based cricket training centre due to the absence of adequate local infrastructure in Chakdaha. If you missed the 5 am train, you missed practice for the entire day. But across her media interviews, especially the high-profile BwC appearance, Goswami comes across as grounded and never forgetting her roots, expressing her love for the daily grind and responding to adversity with aplomb.

“Those days are the golden days of my life. Particularly the train journeys — we had our own gang. The coach we would travel in had mostly sportspersons in it, be it a footballer or athlete. Boys and girls would travel and chat together, and it was really fun. If we missed that train, we would feel so bad that the day didn’t start well…The fun, friendship and knowledge [of the train rides] was not available anywhere else,” she told Kapur.

There is much to be said about how Goswami’s mere 12 Test matches played over two decades reflect the continued chasm between the men’s and women’s game among ICC Full Member nations. The muted retirements of Mithali Raj, South Africa’s Lizelle Lee and New Zealand’s Amy Satterthwaite were revealing too. However, as far as Saturday’s encounter is concerned, it’s a Jhulan Goswami day for the last time.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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