At 33, she is no youngster. But definitely, she could give many youngsters, a ‘run for their money’. Such is the fitness and confidence level of this women’s Team India bowling spearhead, Jhulan Goswami.
Cricfit correspondent, Subramanian Krishnamurthi, caught up with the ‘never-say-die’ cricketer and engaged her in a conversation ranging from how it all started for her, her journey close to one and a half decade at the international level, her high points and many more.
Well, how did cricket happen to Jhulan? Was she ever interested in sports? What was the kind of support she received from her family?
Says Jhulan, “When I was growing up I had seen my cousins play football, discuss football etc. They were very passionate about the game and matches involving East Bengal and Mohun Bagan (the two Kolkata biggies) would invite a lot of discussion. We all used to watch those games over the television.”
“The 1990 Football World Cup was a big event. I was very young. The tournament was held in Italy. Argentina lost to Germany (West Germany in those days) 0-1. Lothar Matthaus was the Germany Captain. There were not many television sets in our locality. The one in our house was used as a common television. Everyone in our locality would assemble in our house to watch all football matches.”
“Then there used to be discussion amongst my cousins. So all these created a liking for sports in me.”
“Cricket always held an important place in India and it was more so after the Indian victory in 1983 World Cup. Television channels used to show almost all the matches and I used to watch them.”
“My cousins and their friends used to play tennis ball cricket in our backyard. I used to watch them play and started to play with them. Initially I was the ‘ball girl’ and had to fetch the ball once it was hit out of the ground. I slowly fell in love with the game.”
“The 1992 World Cup was hosted by Australia and New Zealand. I saw the live telecast of the Ind v Pak match. I also used to then discuss with my cousins. I also used to collect pictures of Sachin, Saurav, Kumble etc.”
Jhulan has played for Bengal Women, East Zone Women as well as the Asian Women’s XI cricket teams.
Ask her where does she draw inspiration from? Did she idolise anyone?
Jhulan says, “I am a sports lover. I like all kinds of sporting activity. I never missed a single sporting event in school. In cricket, I used to follow Wasim Akram and Glenn Mcgrath.”
Goswami has been playing cricket constantly and consistently. If no matches or series were happening, she would be busy with her training schedule. But what does she do when not playing cricket?
Pat comes the reply. ‘Adda (discussion in Bengali lingo) and mostly spend time with the family and friends. With a lot of travel involved in cricket, I hardly get time to be with the family and friends. I also read a lot of biographies. Books are a good company.”
Preparations, both mental and physical, are as much important as playing in a match or a series. How does she go about doing it?
“Preparation is an ongoing process,” says Jhulan. “For me ‘today’ is important than ‘tomorrow’. I make a ‘day-on-day’ plan. Training process is important. With a good training the body remains fresh. There has to be commitment and dedication. I always give 100% in my training.”
Jhulan made her Test and ODI debut at a very young age of 20 against England in 2002. Her debut Test match against England was ‘one-off’ affair. Having opened the bowling attack and having bowled 19 overs, she went wicket-less.
Does she remember that match and what would she like to say?
She says, “I very much remember that match. It was played at KD Singh Babu Stadium in Lucknow. I bowled 6 to 7 overs on the first day. The wicket was very dusty and was unsuitable for medium pace. Anjum (Chopra) was captain. The spinners took over. (Neetu) David took the lead. She claimed 4 wickets. Well for me, it was a very disappointing outing.”
“Every cricketer wants to take a wicket in the debut match. But unfortunately it did not work out for me. It was a one-off match and ended in a draw. I was a bit nervous. But our captain Anjum kept on encouraging me. I was also not sure whether i would be picked again. But i was happy to see the selectors and the team management repose confidence in me,” she adds.
The 2006 series to England was a very good one for Team India and for Jhulan, in particular, India won the 2-Test series 1-0. Goswami was instrumental in guiding India to victory in the Second Test at Taunton, with the First Test at Leicester ending in a draw.
Jhulan finished the match with a 10-wicket haul (10/78), her only 10-wicket haul in her career thus far. She claimed 5 wickets in each innings in the match.
Ten years down the line, how does she would want recall that match and the series?
Jhulan says, “That was the turning point in my career. It was an important series for all of us. After the World Cup 2005, in which we played the final encounter against Australia, people started following us (women’s cricket). We were playing in a big and important series. It was an exciting tour of 45 days. I was clearly enjoying my rhythm. I have always done well whenever I enjoy my rhythm in my bowling. I was really glad to contribute in a big way for the team’s victory and that gives me a lot of satisfaction”.
In the first innings of the First Test in Leicester, Goswami went in to bat at the critical position of No 3 and scored 69 runs. In the process she had put up 85 runs partnership with the skipper Mithali Raj for the third-wicket, 41 runs with Anjum Chopra for the fourth-wicket, and another 23 runs with Hemlata Kala for the fifth-wicket.
How did she plan and strategise those innings?
Jhulan says, “Just two overs were left for the end of first day’s play. I had thought of just to stay put at the wicket. On the second day I had decided to hang around and contribute with the bat. That was a very good opportunity. I thought that if I stayed around, I could build partnerships and partnerships were very vital in innings building.”
“Whatever way the team management wants me to contribute, I try to do so. Mithali (Raj) is a very positive girl. She said ‘you hit when you want to’. Anjum (Chopra) said ‘just enjoy your batting. You are middling the ball well’. So I kept doing the normal things and runs came along.”
Goswami was awarded the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year in 2007. In that year no cricketer from the Indian Men’s Team won any ICC award. She was the lone Indian in the awardee list. Ask her how did she feel?
Says Jhulan, “That was really good. Award is actually a recognition for the efforts put in by a sportsperson. It really encourages and motivates you to do even better. Why award, even nomination is big thing. I really enjoyed the moment. Sadly, there was no winner from the Men’s team.”
Jhulan has been performing exceedingly well in England as compared to any other country/venue. Of the 175 ODI wickets claimed by her thus far, 63 of them are against England from 44 games.
What reason would she attribute this to?
With a big smile, she says, “That is because we have played a lot of series against England. You can enjoy bowling in England. I like the cricket culture over there. I like their passion for the game and the wickets are seriously good for medium pace bowling. The weather is good, being cloudy, it helps.”
Post retirement of Cathryn Fitzpatrik of Australia, Jhulan is the fastest bowler in the world and has clocked 120 kmph.
Is she aware of this fact?
With shyness on her face, she says. “Yeah i know and it really feels good. But above all India winning matches and series gives me more joy and happiness. Rhythm in the bowling and consistency are very important for me.”
She has won the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year award in 2007, Arjuna Award 2010 and the Padma Shri in 2012. Which one does she cherish most?
“Every award is very important and encouraging for a sportsperson. Arjuna Award is a big one. I have been hearing from childhood days that the Government confers Arjuna Award on sportspersons who really do well in various sports. It was my dream to do good and be awarded,” says Jhulan.
She goes on to add, “I never thought about the ICC award. It’s a fact that while you tread along a particular path, you do reach certain milestones. It really feels nice that your performance is recognised and you are awarded”.
So much of wisdom from someone who has seen it all at an early age.
She adds further, “I never even imagined about Padma Shri and I did not even know why it was awarded to anyone. It was definitely a very big honour to receive the award from Her Excellency, the President of India. Well, along with the awards, comes a huge responsibility. You need to set standards and you need to be a role model.”
The Men’s cricket team is well taken care of by BCCI. They have chief coach, bowling coach, batting coach, fielding coach, video analyst, physio-therapist, psycho-analyst etc.
Does the Women’s team also have such paraphernalia attached to the team or are they left to fend for themselves?
Jhulan says, “From the time when BCCI took over the administration, women’s cricket has come a long way. There is a lot of support and contribution has been positive. They are putting in all efforts to try and promote women’s cricket. BCCI is now devoting more time for women’s cricket. We also have trainers, physios, coaches, for the team. These are technical issues and BCCI technical office takes care of these.”
The Quadrangular Tournament in 2007 involved Australia, England and New Zealand alongwith India. Jhulan ended as the second best bowler in the series with 11 wickets from 7 innings. India lost a crucial match against New Zealand and failed to make it to the final clash.
How does she look back at that match and her performance?
Says Jhulan, with a tinge of sadness in her voice, “That match was clearly heart- breaking. It was an important match. A win would have taken us through to the final. We started off very well in the tournament. But there were some ups and downs on the way and that made the difference. The way we started was very good but the tempo could not be maintained. After having an amazing start, we could not keep the momentum going. It was really disappointing. Well cricket is an uncertain game.”
Women’s cricket World Cup is around the corner. The tournament is being hosted by England and is to be held in June/July 2017.
How is the team preparing for the event and does she feel India has a chance to win the Cup?
Says the speedster, “I am always dreaming about it. For the team it is very important. We are all looking forward to 2017 World Cup. Our performance in the 2013 tournament was not upto the mark. We will put in our best efforts to do well. Preparations have started on individual basis. We will soon have our camps. We will also play a few series against West Indies, Pakistan and other teams. We have almost one year on hand. We will plan very meticulously and implement”.
Given her bowling prowess and also wielding the willow, Jhulan is referred to as the female version of Kapil Dev. How does she react to it?
“Thank you so much for elevating me to such a level. But my request to one and all is please do not mention my name in the same breath as the legendary cricketer. Pray to you not to compare me with him. He is a legend who has done so much for the country. By winning the 1983 World Cup he has clearly made India a powerhouse of cricket. Let us all look upon him and give him all the respect he deserves,” says Goswami.
Well, women’s cricket has definitely come a long way worldwide and so in India. With BCCI ‘owning up’ the women’s cricket, as much as they do the men’s, there has been a great improvement in the facilities and infrastructure for the women.
Ask Jhulan, how does she see the situation?
She says, “Overall women’s cricket is a growing sport in the world. Australia organises tournament like the Big Bash, England have the Super League and these are big positives for the game. ICC, since 2006-07, has been promoting women’s cricket in a big way. They are very positive. Good coaches are deputed and talents scouted. Women have the same facilities as the men. For the last two years ICC Championship is being organised in which 8 teams participate. So it is all happening and we cannot ignore.”
Well its ok with ICC but is BCCI doing enough for women’s cricket?
Jhulan says, “Since 2006, BCCI has been helping women’s cricket in a big way. When we started playing we hardly got anything. Now we are all contracted players with the Board. Facilities of BCCI are the best. You cannot find them in many other countries. We have world class stadia all over the country where women cricketers can go and train. NCA has open doors for us. We can go there and train any time we want to. BCCI is always looking for ways and means to try and develop women’s cricket. You need to give some time for results. England and Australian women’s cricket merged with their respective Boards long back. BCCI is very positive. Wait and see Indian women’s cricket will dominate in the world, sooner than later, as much as the men’s cricket is doing now. We also have very good bench strength.”
IPL has taken the cricketing world by the storm. New talents have emerged from not-so-big cities and the cricketers are also financially secured. Well these are all for the ‘boys and the men.’
What do the women get? Is Jhulan in favour of an IPL kind of venture for women’s cricket?
“Why not?”, she asks. “It will be really good for women’s cricket. Small town girls will surely come up and perform. They will get a good platform to showcase their talent and play alongside world class players and gain a good experience. Eventually most of them can go to play for the national team.”
Yes, she has a point. Definitely many small town girls can look upto cricket as a career. But the moot question is getting sponors, franchisees who all might want to invest in such a venture.
Jhulan’s team mate, Harmanpreet Kaur has been signed by Sydney Thunders for the Big Bash League 2016-17 season.
What does she (Jhulan) have to say about this development? Does she feel more Indian women cricketers should look forward to such assignments?
“BCCI permitted her to sign the contract. It is really good. Last year I and Mithali were called. This year BCCI specified that NOC would have to be obtained before signing for BBL. On applying, BCCI gave the NOC to Harmanpreet. This is a good opportunity to play with other country cricketers. I wish her to do well. It is really challenging and tough. People do follow the league in a great way. It is really good for women’s cricket.”
There have been many stalwarts in Indian women’s cricket. The likes of Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Eduljee, Sharmila Chakraborty, Anjum Chopra etc who all have done a great service to the women’s cricket, in general, and Indian women’s cricket, in particular.
Ask Jhulan whether she is being guided and advised by the ex-cricketers?
Goswami says, “They are the pioneers of women’s cricket. Shanta Ma’am and Diana Ma’am are the reasons for the development and upcoming of women’s cricket in India. Sharmila di is also very helpful. Whenever we talk to them they give positive inputs and advices. Purnima Rao and Anjum (Chopra) are extremely helpful. When I joined Air India, Purnima (Rao) was the coach. Anjum was the Captain under whom I made my debut and I have leant a lot from them. They always encouraged me and extended support. We have a very good relation with all the ex-cricketers. We spend quality time together and I am really lucky to work with them.”
Young women cricketers, who are also the team mates of Jhulan, like Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Veda Krishnamurthy, have all done well in the recently concluded 50-over World Cup and the 20-over World Cup.
Answering the question about these youngsters in the team, Jhulan says, “They are the big cricketers. Individually they are great. At this age they handle pressure well and play flamboyant . They are the best. (Smriti) Mandhana is very exciting. Veda (Krishnamurthy) is very talented. Herman (Kaur) also has made her mark. She has the potential to take responsibility. She has proved that. Mithali (Raj) guides them. Being batters they are fortunate to share the dressing room with Mithali, who herself is an excellent batter.”
Does Jhulan look at anyone in the current team, including the bench strength, who could become the next ‘Jhulan Goswami’?
Being modest, she says, “I cannot take any one name. There are plenty of fast bowlers. They need to be looked after well. They need to be guided properly. Encourage them. Medium pacers should be handled properly. Why like Jhulan, they could do even better.”
Young girls who are watching these great players in action tend to idolise some of them and follow their footsteps.
How would Jhulan want to encourage the young girls to take up sports, in general, and cricket, in particular, as a career?
“I believe sports should be a passion. You cannot force anyone into it. Your target should be identified and you should be honest in your process. There are no shortcuts to success. Efforts should be focused. You need to have some role model and follow their success story.”
Sports icons also have a responsibility in setting up standards and also live by the same standards.”
The discussion also veered around Rio Olympics. Jhulan Goswami signed of saying, “Being an Indian, I would pray for Sindhu to win the Gold Medal.”