CWC 2022: One last dance for Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami

Having been through a lot in two decades, one of Indian cricket's most iconic duos get ready for battle in what is likely to be their final attempt at glory.

Published: 05th March 2022 10:36 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th March 2022 12:14 AM   |  A+A-

On Sunday, Mithali will become the first-ever woman to play in six World Cups, and Goswami will be playing her fifth. (Photo | BCCI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: India had just beaten the West Indies comprehensively at Taunton. It was their second consecutive win of the 2017 World Cup. On their way back to the hotel, Jhulan Goswami walked up to then head coach, Tushar Arothe, in the bus and said: ‘Sir, you drop me from the team. I’m not bowling well." A shocked Arothe replied: “What? Are you crazy?”

How else could he have reacted? 

She had just gone wicketless three matches — a warm-up fixture and the two World Cup matches, which India actually won — and asks you to drop her, but is also the team’s best bowler, and arguably one of the greatest fast bowlers in the world, who had just become the all-time leading wicket-taker in the format.

Trupti Bhattacharya, then team manager, remembers reacting the same way when she heard what had happened. But both Trupti and Arothe reiterated that there was no way they were leaving Goswami out of the XI. "I said, 'I know you are not bowling well, but I will not drop you. If you are willing to work hard, we will work on it, and I'm sure you'll come back stronger," recalls Arothe.

They went back to Derby for the next match against Pakistan as Arothe worked with the pacer on the lengths she needed to hit consistently in England to get wickets. She came back strongly, taking ten scalps in the next seven matches she played in the tournament.

This story isn't an exaggeration. She is this grounded, consistently-learning athlete, who is not afraid to admit she hasn’t performed to the standards she had set for herself. She is also a team player, who was happy to sit out if it would help the eleven. Because it is just who Goswami has always been; not just at 34 in the peak of her prowess, but even when she played her first ODI World Cup 17 years ago in South Africa, when India reached the final of the tournament for the first time in history.

At 22, she was arguably the quickest bowler alongside Amita Sharma in the team in 2005. In a World Cup that saw just one 250 plus score, the Indian bowlers led the charts, with Goswami in third place for wickets.

Even then, she was the same inquisitive student of the game, who would spend a lot of time picking the brains of New Zealand pacer Nicola Browne and Australian quick Cathryn Fitzpatrick —  whom she would surpass in the years to come — despite her struggles to converse fluently in English. “She did have a bit of linguistic issues earlier, but she still made an effort, she interacts a lot. It didn't prevent her from talking at that stage,” recalls Trupti.

Maybe that is why she takes the effort to spend more time with the younger players and makes them feel like they belong."She was very down to earth even today, mixes very well with the younger lot, in fact, spends more time with them to pep them. Whatever her routine is, she's always there for the team, always there for the youngsters, always there to sit and talk to you,” she adds.

And then, there is Mithali Raj, the captain.

Not just in the ongoing edition, she was also the one to lead them in 2005. An illustrious international career spread across 23 years has seen her evolve from a teenage prodigy to this eloquent stateswoman, who's the face of the women’s game in the country.

In the last few years, almost every time she walked onto the field, she created a new record. 

But more than the numbers, it was the impact she had on an entire generation of young kids who picked up a bat watching her play as consistently as one could ever do. If you ask almost any player in the domestic circuit who is their dream batting partner, the answer, nine out of ten times, would inevitably be Mithali.

Such has been the effect she has had on the upcoming cricketers. And it's visible on the field too. Every time you watch a young player bat alongside her, the way she takes them along, builds partnerships and guides them on how to build an innings... it's there for everyone to see.

On the field, she is the epitome of calmness. In fact, her serenity became a trending topic during the 2017 World Cup when a picture of her reading a book in the dugout while waiting to bat became viral. However, it wasn’t a new quality. As Trupti recalls, the traits were always there even when she led a team filled with seniors as a 22-year-old.

“Even then, she doesn’t get flustered. She was a very young, shy and reserved person. But, when it comes to the game, she is a very different person. When it came to addressing the team, she was very confident and clear with what she wanted and expected. So, she was well respected and accepted,” says Trupti, who was with the team as the manager in 2005.

Having shared the dressing room with Goswami for over 20 years, they have played in four ODI World Cups, in two of which they reached the final, and five T20 World Cups together. Their camaraderie is something that has been extensively written and spoken about. There is nothing the veteran duo haven't experienced on a cricket field.

In the pre-match press conference ahead of their opening game against Pakistan, Mithali said as much. “I think we've both been part of the dressing room for quite some time, we've enjoyed, you know, representing our country and have faced a lot of victories and defeats. And I think it's just great to have her with me playing this World Cup and over the years she's been the frontline bowler of India, and have delivered each time I've given her a ball — so her experience as a fast bowler will always be very helpful to the team and to the young speedsters in the side — getting into this World Cup,” she said on Saturday.

On Sunday, Mithali will become the first-ever woman to play in six World Cups, and Goswami will be playing her fifth. They both know what it's like to be completely outplayed by an opponent in the final and to come inches away from the title and lose. It’s a dream they have nourished over two decades.

Ahead of India’s opening game, Arothe recalls the meeting he had called before leaving for the 2017 edition. When he asked the team why they were going to England, all Mithali had to say was, “To win the World Cup.” And the meeting was over. When the trophy slipped through their hands by just nine runs, Mithali took one last walk on to the Lord’s Ground late into the dark evening of July 23rd to soak it all in before leaving.

As they get ready to play in what is likely to be the pair's final attempt at glory, it is hard to not think whether Mithali would remember those two moments when she takes the field on Sunday.

Remember Virat Kohli’s iconic quote about Sachin Tendulkar after winning the World Cup in 2011? “Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders,” he had said.
Now, it's over to the Indian women to do the same for these two stalwarts of Indian cricket.



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