In India, it’s a lot easier—and natural too—for a top grade international cricketer to bask in the glory of name and fame and assume an air that doesn’t befit an ordinary person.
Jhulan Goswami—the highest wicket-taker in the history of women’s cricket with over 300 international wickets in her bag—is all simplicity; a glaring exception to the age-old and stereotypical notion arguing that good breeding and humbleness are dispensed with as a natural consequence of the acquisition of wealth and attainment of social mobility. Towering as she is, both literally and figuratively, her groundedness and persistent dedication to the game evince and bear the signature of the good values that she has been brought up with.
Despite having bowed out of T20 international cricket in August this year, Jhulan has yet to concede her habit of using the first person plural ‘we’ to the consciousness of using the third person plural ‘they’ while speaking about the Indian women’s T20I team. You can take Jhulan Goswami out of the Indian team, but you cannot take the Indian team out of her.
With India doing so well in the ongoing edition of the ICC Women’s World T20, Jhulan feels that the team has got all its bases covered. A day before India’s third Group-B game against Ireland in Guyana, I caught up with her at the JU Salt Lake campus ground in Kolkata, where after sweating it out in the nets with many younger female cricketers, she sat down—with a cup of tea in her hand—for a freewheeling chat which lasted nearly half an hour.
Q: You are mostly away on foreign tours or busy playing home matches every year during the festive season here in Kolkata. How did it feel being at home and enjoying the festivities after such a long time?
Jhulan: It was wonderful! After a long time I got an opportunity to spend time with my family during the Durga Pujo. We organised a pujo at our home and I was delighted to host and meet many of our relatives after such a long time. I couldn’t be there at home during the Pujo for the past six or seven years. I would either go out of the city on Shosthi or come back on Nobomi (the penultimate day of the Pujo), so I missed celebrating the festival with my family for the past few years.
Q: This is the first ever standalone World T20 in the history of women’s cricket. Could you not have deferred your T20I retirement by a few months?
Jhulan: No, not at all. I had been thinking about my retirement from T20Is since the start of the tri-series (involving India, Australia and England) which we played in March. It was a well thought out decision and I consulted a lot of people before making it public. The T20 format was becoming strenuous for me and it has always been my principle that if you’re not able to deliver your 100% for the team in any particular format, it’s always better to make way for others—younger and fitter players that is.
Q: In a column for the ICC recently, you recalled “staying in an accommodation with bunk beds for [your] first World Cup, in 2005.” The facilities that the women cricketers get today are a huge contrast to what you were used to getting, say ten years ago. Would you impute the resurgence of Indian women’s cricket to this massive improvement in facilities for the players?
Jhulan: I started playing cricket because it was my passion. In those days, we never really bothered our heads about the standard of the facilities that we were provided with. It was all about chasing your passion. Looking back though, I would say that it was difficult. I remember that during the 2005 World Cup in South Africa, one room had to be shared by three cricketers and in our room, we had a three-tier bunk bed whose top bunk was occupied by me and the other two were occupied by Deepa Kulkarni and Amita Sharma. That is how we carried on; we did not give up despite the lack of proper facilities. On the contrary, it taught us a lot of good things and was fun in its own way.
I think ever since the ICC took over from the IWCC (International Women Cricket Council) as the common governing body of both men’s and women’s cricket, there has been a massive change—and change for the better it has been—in the quality of facilities that are extended to the women players. As I have written in my column, we don’t have to travel unreserved in trains anymore, nor do all the teams have to share a common bathroom. We now fly business class, stay in five-star hotels, practise at good grounds, play international cricket under the supervision of ICC Elite Panel umpires and have most of our matches telecast. What else could you ask for? These changes have inspired a lot of girls to take up women’s cricket of late and have contributed a great deal to making women’s cricket a watchable sport. It entails a long process; [it] doesn’t happen overnight.
Q: The introduction of central contracts must have had its share of influence too, in making the game more attractive for up-and-coming female cricketers in India…
Jhulan: Absolutely! It has instilled confidence and security among the players and is certainly an incentive for them to focus more on the game. Not everybody is fortunate to get a Railway job or a Government job under the sports quota. The central contracts given by the BCCI would allow a player to expend more energy in training and engage her own personal trainer and dietician without having her to worry about the budget. This has a direct and favourable bearing on your performance.
Q: India have made a good start to their World T20 campaign by winning their first two Group-B matches against New Zealand and Pakistan. Do you think they have got all their bases covered?
Jhulan: Oh, yes! It’s looking like a professional unit. A lot of credit for this must go to Ramesh (Powar) and Harman. Let me tell you, they started drawing up their plans for the tournament from September and it isn’t that their two wins have come as a surprise. It is the reflection of an elaborate planning process which began from the tour of Sri Lanka, which was Ramesh’s first assignment as coach of the women’s team. They have a set combination which has fetched good results in T20Is over the last couple of months. The combination of four spinners and one pacer has proved quite effective and the Indian management is clear about fielding a set combination.
The individual performances, too, have been spectacular so far! Harman made a brilliant hundred in the first game; Jemi (Jemimah Rodrigues)—despite being so young—hasn’t betrayed any sign of nervousness, which is great to see; then Mithali, who is a stalwart, played such a crucial knock in the previous game against Pakistan. Smriti (Mandhana) has developed into a fine T20 player after her exploits in the KIA Super League and Veda (Krishnamurthy) can start playing her shots whenever the occasion calls for it. The same balance can be observed in the bowling.
Poonam Yadav has been bowling well and taking wickets regularly for India in this format. Look at Hemalatha’s performance! Who would say that she is playing her first T20I tournament? It’s a close-knit group comprising players who are confident and enjoying their game.
Indian women’s cricket is at its zenith at present and we must ensure that the performances don’t take a dip all of a sudden. Remember, India couldn’t make the semi-finals in the last three editions of the World T20, so it’s imperative that we make the knockouts this time around and inspire more girls and more viewers to follow the game.
Q: How is Ramesh Powar’s approach to coaching different from that of Tushar Arothe?
Jhulan: Tushar also did a commendable job during his tenure. It’s not fair to take credit away from a person who is not currently associated with the team. He was handed the job after the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup and the players who are performing well today owe a lot to his guidance during his one-year stint. He and Ramesh are two different characters, so it’s difficult to compare and weigh their approaches against one another.
Q: Have you spoken to the team lately?
Jhulan: [I] haven’t been able to because of the time differences. It’s either I am awake when they are all sleeping or vice versa. I did of course speak to them on phone before they left India and wished them luck.
Q: Mithali Raj scored a match-winning fifty against Pakistan opening the batting. Is opening the best position for her in the shortest format?
Jhulan: It’s for the management to decide. I don’t think it would be wise on my part to comment on the team strategy sitting here in India.
Q: Your assessment of Harmanpreet Kaur’s captaincy…
Jhulan: She has been doing a fantastic job and leading from the front. Her USP as a leader is her aggression and her readiness to take responsibilities and desire to lead by example.
Q: The advent of T20 cricket has made big-hitters like Harmanpreet Kaur, Danielle Wyatt and Alyssa Healy indispensable in their respective national sides. Is the women’s game gradually becoming a power sport compared to the time when you made your international debut?
Jhulan: When I started playing the game, we had only two formats—first-class cricket and one-day cricket and hence, were not required to play big shots that often. Things started changing with the advent of T20 cricket. Teams started looking to set big targets for the opposition and as a result, fitness and strength started gaining more importance. If you want to win and also entertain the viewers, it’s necessary that you have big-hitters in your team and with the format comprising only 120 balls per side, you should look to score eight to nine runs off every over. Majority of the players are well-built today, which enables them to generate power and play the big shots.
Q: From a bowler’s perspective, how would you look to bowl to such players?
Jhulan: First and foremost, you need to be smart enough to assess the situation and figure out a certain player’s weak zones quickly because time is so scarce in this format. Variations are a must and you ought to learn how and when to use them. If you bowl a dot ball by bowling in a certain area and a particular delivery, and expect yourself to get away in the same way with your next two or three deliveries, you will be proved wrong in no time. The key to success for bowlers in this format therefore, depends on how well and how timely you can execute your stock ball or your slower or your bouncer.
Q: The Indian spinners have fared creditably in the tournament so far. Do you think India’s possession of good spinners is likely to make a difference in the knockout stages against teams that rely more on their pacers and on surfaces which have proved slow and more conducive to India’s style of bowling?
Jhulan: Spin is our forte and with the way the wickets are playing, India would stand a good chance against the non-Asian teams in the knockouts. I don’t know how the pitch will behave on the given day, but from whatever I have seen of the pitches used so far, I feel that our spinners would do well if they don’t succumb to pressure.
Q: Tournaments such as the Women’s Big Bash League and the Kia Super League have shown that if promoted properly, franchise-based cricket tournaments for women have a lot of takers. Is it time the BCCI took a leaf out of their books and launched a full-fledged women’s IPL?
Jhulan: This is the right time to launch such a competition, for the team is performing well and a lot of people have developed a keen interest in the sport. Having said that, it is entirely for the BCCI to decide, but being an Indian international myself, I would like the idea to materialize as soon as possible. The IPL Women’s Challenge game which we played earlier this year in Mumbai drew good response from the television viewers, even though most of the stands were empty for its having a 2 pm start. You could have six teams instead of eight, but you will have a big pool to choose your players from.
Q: The two World Cup finals that you have been a part of, in 2005 and in 2017, came at two different stages of your career—one as a youngster and the other as a senior member. How are the two experiences different?
Jhulan: In 2005, I was a youngster who was living her dream of playing a World Cup final, whereas in 2017, with the tournament being telecast and watched by so many people, all the younger members in the squad were excited, so as a senior member I knew that my job is to hold my nerves and use all my experience to calm the others as well. Winning the game would have been better, but it was a great final to have been a part of.
Q: Is it that unfulfilled wish of winning a World Cup which has sustained Jhulan Goswami in ODIs?
Jhulan: I know what you are hinting at, but 2021 is a long time from now. As long as I am enjoying the one-day format, I will continue playing, but the day I feel that I have got nothing more to contribute in this format, I will step aside. As of now, I am keen on continuing…
Q: How are your autobiography and your biopic progressing along?
Jhulan: The autobiography is at its nascent stage, for I haven’t been able to spare much time for it because of my engagements for the biopic. The script is ready but the casting has yet to be finalized. If the shooting begins in March 2019, hopefully we will have it running in the theatres by the middle of 2020 (smiles).
Q: If Harmanpreet and co. do qualify for the final, would Jhulan Goswami fly off to Antigua and be there to deliver them a pep talk before the all-important game?
Jhulan: Let’s see; I haven’t thought of it as yet. If they reach the final, I will try to be there [in Antigua] and cheer them on.