End of an era: Jhulan Goswami ready for final spell

After over two decades, fast bowling icon, who has inspired many over the years, will make final international appearance in the 3rd ODI against England
 

Published: 24th September 2022 09:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th September 2022 02:51 PM   |  A+A-

As Jhulan Goswami looks back she says, 'I never thought about playing for so long.'

Express News Service

COIMBATORE: 2022 was always going to be the year. After all, Jhulan Goswami was chasing her World Cup dream. The dream that had slipped through her fingers in the final not once but twice. Despite declaring, back in 2017, that she didn't think her body would last another four-five years, she had made her way to New Zealand in 2022. But again, the dream remained elusive.

As she watched the Indian team crumble under pressure in their last league game of the ODI World Cup against South Africa at Christchurch —  an injury to the upper abdomen had ruled her out of the contest — one could tell she was going through the same emotional ride as the millions of Indian fans who were following it back home. For her, perhaps, those feelings were amplified. She was dreading the fact that she couldn't be there when the team needed her the most.

Although Jhulan with Mithali Raj by her side said that they did not want to contemplate retirement that night, it's hard to say that the thought of her not playing again didn't cross our minds. It was not the kind of farewell the team wanted to give her. If not for a podium finish, she deserved to finish her career on the field bowling her thunderbolts and taking wickets for her country rather than be injured and confined to a dressing room.

Which is why, it is only fitting that, the trailblazer that she is, Jhulan gets to sign off on a high, playing her final international match at Lord's on Saturday having secured India's first ODI series win in England since 1999. "When I started, I never thought about playing for so long. It was a great experience. I learnt and enjoyed every moment," said the 39-year-old in a virtual media interaction on Friday.

"Coming from Chakdaha (a small town in Nadia district, West Bengal), I did not have an idea about women's cricket and (how to) take it up professionally. Thanks to my parents and family who supported me from the beginning."

The beginning. That was over two decades ago. No other fast bowler across genders in the last 70 years has had a longer career than hers. It's the longevity that defined her. To take up fast bowling in India as a female cricketer, who seldom got the best resources and pitches, and put her body through the grind for over 20 years while being among the top pacers in the world is no mean feat.

And she knows it too. During the World Cup earlier this year, when Ananya Upendran, a fast bowler-turned journalist, asked about the difficulties her body goes through at the age of 39, Jhulan was her candid best laughing, "Ananya, only you can understand me." However, she was still at the peak of her powers, delivering the wickets whenever the team needed it something she still does. If you had doubts, England opener Tammy Beaumont, who lost her stumps to a sharp inswinger from Jhulan in the first ODI last Sunday, would confirm it.

The 39-year-old was always a grounded student of the game. Early in her career, she never hesitated to reach out to overseas pacers, nor did she think twice about passing on that knowledge to the youngsters as she became their "Jhulu di". The way other players, teammates and rivals, especially, the pacers speak about her, tells the story. One just has to listen to South Africa's Shabnim Ismail the only pacer who could potentially get past Jhulan's wickets tally on how much she "loves and looks up to her."

And it's not just about the players. There was a sense of welcoming towards everyone. Even the toughest questions in press conferences were met with calmness and clarity. When you hear her speak, you feel reassured.

Athletes like Jhulan Goswami come once in a generation. That India still haven't been able to replace her in the playing XI even after 20 years is proof of how invaluable she is. It also tells that the system that is in place hasn't been as effective.

While Jhulan's record stands tall, she hadn't got enough opportunities to bowl in the red ball 12 Tests in 20 years. To give you some context, England men's pacer James Anderson, who made his international debut after the Indian, has played 175 Tests in 19 years.

Jhulan has repeatedly spoken about how she dreamt of having at least one international wicket next to her name when she was a ball girl during the 1997 Women's World Cup final at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. 25 years on, she finishes with more than 350 of them, going down as the greatest female fast bowler of all time.

Perhaps, her career is testament to the fact that you can't become what you can't see — ask Pakistan's Kainat Imtiaz who took to cricket seriously after watching Jhulan as a ball girl in the 2005 Asia Cup. Jhulan saw what she wanted to become in 1997 and went on to show generations of young girls how it is done for 20 years, 8 months and 19 days.



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