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Exclusive | Women's Cricket in India Still Missing Something, IPL Has the Answer, Says Jhulan Goswami

By: Sougata Mukhopadhyay

Edited By: Nitya Thirumalai

CNN-News18

Last Updated: September 27, 2022, 15:03 IST

Kolkata [Calcutta], India

Indian cricketer Jhulan Goswami during her farewell match at the Lord's cricket ground in London on September 24, 2022. (Twitter/@BCCIWomen)

Indian cricketer Jhulan Goswami during her farewell match at the Lord's cricket ground in London on September 24, 2022. (Twitter/@BCCIWomen)

Jhulan Goswami, the world’s highest wicket-taker in women’s cricket, hung up her boots at Lord’s. Back in Kolkata, the Chakdah Express relives with News18 her journey that started when women’s cricket was unheard of in India, and shares plans for the future, including the much-awaited women’s IPL

An incredible journey spanning over two decades has just come to an end. Jhulan Goswami, the world’s highest wicket-taker in women’s cricket, including 255 ODI wickets, bade farewell to the game at Lord’s last week on a winning note where India defeated England by 16 runs.

Nicknamed ‘Chakdah Express’ after her native suburban town in Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, Jhulan Goswami shared her story and much more in an exclusive interview to News18 after landing in Kolkata, all tired but never lacking in that spirit which kept her going at the international stage for so long.

Edited excerpts

This must be an emotional moment for you. Would you share with us the emotions going through your mind right now?

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When I started playing, I never thought I would play my farewell game at Lord’s. I think I am very fortunate and God has been very kind to me that I was able to play in that ground in my last game. It was an amazing journey. I enjoyed each and every moment. There were lots of ups and downs, humiliations initially… when I began from Chakdah, people asked me: why are you playing cricket, why can’t you study… Because a young girl taking an early morning train every day for cricket training and that too for women’s cricket.

They had little idea about the history of women’s cricket at the time since visibility was minimum and almost no (media) coverage. I faced a lot of discouraging comments in train compartments which upset me sometimes. Then I told myself: fair enough, I am going to change all that. I will play wearing the Indian jersey, although I had no idea that I will be playing for 20 years (smiles).

Changing mindset… that’s perhaps the most difficult game you had to play off the field besides facing tough opponents on the field.

It was part and parcel of our careers. Many a times, we heard harsh comments, but at the same time, we were representing our country. That always gave us the extra motivation which we tried to carry, avoid the negativities and start afresh for the next day. And it’s not just me. When we started, our entire generation faced those hardships. Our previous generation, even more. But we knew we were among the chosen few representing our country. Now I realise that those comments made me grow as a person and change my mindset. They helped me strengthen my resolve to adapt to them and come back to start anew.

So those jibes, comments and adverse remarks toughened you both as a person and as a cricketer?

Absolutely, no doubt about that. Cricket is a ruthless game. When on the ground, you have to do well. No one is going to give anything for free. You have to earn every wicket and the opponent is going to come hard at you. Off the field, there are things that help you on the cricket field and the field also helps you handle those comments off the field.

Your final moments on the field… you taking your cap off after bowling the final delivery, your colleagues, Harmanpreet especially, in tears and you trying to console them. Those must have been very emotional for you.

Absolutely. It was an important moment when I bowled my last ball and the match was still in a 50-50 situation, runs were minimum and we had to defend those runs. The girls told me we are going to win this match for you. Was I emotional? Of course, I was. I knew that was my last ball wearing the Indian jersey. But I also knew I had to keep my emotions under check and make sure I was enjoying that moment. I had to ensure that my emotions did not adversely affect the team’s morale at that juncture of the game.

What was your most memorable moment on the field during your incredible 20-year international career? And one moment you would want to forget?

You see, each and every moment of this journey was special because you can’t stay away from any of them. When I made my debut for my country, that was a very special moment. As a young girl, I always dreamed of playing for my country, bowl one ball and take one wicket; so that if I am not able to play any further, I can at least say that I have one wicket in my bag. That’s how my thought process went.

The way we played the 2017 World Cup changed women’s cricket and made people accept women’s cricket in our country, young girls are now taking the sport professionally and making it a career option. So that’s a very important moment.

At the same time, when I look back, if we could have one either of the two World Cups, I would have been very happy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Those World Cup defeats are probably your greatest regrets…

Yes, just like it is for an athlete to miss out on a medal in Olympics or for a footballer to miss out on the football World Cup.

Especially when you made it to the finals and had just one hurdle to overcome…

Representing the country in a World Cup final is any athlete’s dream come true and winning the cup is the ultimate joy. Unfortunately, the latter was not to be. But what we managed to achieve was that it changed the face of women’s cricket in India.

You are a medium pace bowler and the highest wicket-taker in women’s cricket. In India, where women’s cricket wasn’t so easily accepted, did being a fast bowler pose additional challenge to you in your initial years?

As a kid, I always wanted to take that challenge. When I played with the boys in my village, they never used to give me the ball saying I am a girl and I bowled slowly. In gully cricket, if you have to be an important member of your team, you have to both bowl and bat and that’s how my fight began.

In Calcutta, when I began my journey as a professional cricketer, my coach told me you have such a lovely height and a great high arm bowling action which very few women cricketers have. He told me not to look back and keep working hard on my training and put my mind to the thought that I have to bowl fast.

So, it’s that belief in yourself and in your coach during your training sessions at Vivekananda Park that paved your way to becoming the future Jhulan Goswami?

Absolutely. Those hardcore training programmes we faced at a young age helped me a lot. Our coach was a hard taskmaster and he treated us ruthlessly. In sports, there’s no tomorrow. Targets must be reached today, we had to fight hard for that and we had to fight our own battles. You may win or lose, but you have to deal with it yourself. Those are the things my coach taught me from a very young age.

Things may have changed a lot for the better in women’s cricket in India. But the move still seems to be uphill. What according to you are the areas where women cricketers need support and nurturing?

I think women’s cricket in India is currently in safe hands with the BCCI taking care of it. The Board has begun Under-15 women’s cricket which is important. Next year, India will play the U-19 World Cup for the first time. That would be a huge thing since those cricketers will be our future stars. And if, hopefully, women’s IPL is played next year, then that would be a big thing for women’s cricket.

Let me stop you there and ask - would you be playing the IPL?

I haven’t decided that yet. Let me first absorb this current moment and then I will think about it.

Okay, please continue…

If women’s IPL starts next year, then that would be a big step for Indian cricket because now only those who are playing for the country are getting paid as per scale, having personal trainers and access to other facilities. They are playing the overseas leagues as well and are getting the proper exposure to international cricket. Unfortunately, our domestic girls are not getting that kind of exposure. They can get that once they start playing for franchises.

So you are looking forward to the IPL because it will give our girls much-needed exposure?

Absolutely. That’s the need of the moment. The one thing missing at the moment is extra exposure. That will change women’s cricket… because everybody in India knows and enjoys the game and that one small step will take them to the next level. I am sure that will happen sooner rather than later.

Let’s talk about the legacy of Jhulan Goswami. You have a biopic coming out very soon. But other than that, what would be your contribution for future generation of cricketers?

I haven’t given that much thought yet. But I will certainly try to instill the three Ds in their lives — Discipline, Dedication and Determination. Those are absolutely required if you want to achieve things in your career. There are quality players in our team who can be match winners on any given day but they need just that extra little bit of push to reach that next level.

You are certain that India’s women’s cricket team would win the World Cup soon if they have that right push?

Yes, the final lap.

What next for Jhulan Goswami other than IPL, which I am sure you would consider playing as and when it comes. But that apart, what now?

Honestly speaking, I haven’t thought about it. For now, I just want to take a break and enjoy the pujas with my family and close friends. I want to eat a lot of my favourite foods because for many years now, I have been on a strict diet regime. I will eat junk food and celebrate Durga Puja and only after that will I start thinking about my future plans (laughs).

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first published:September 27, 2022, 14:23 IST
last updated:September 27, 2022, 15:03 IST