Jhulan Goswami’s dedication to the game was such that she “spit fire” even while bowling into the nets, and on the receiving end was often her longtime teammate and captain, Mithali Raj. India’s best ever batter, Mithali, who swore a glorious career in July, welcomed her modern-day fast bowling great Jhulan to the former cricketer’s club on Saturday. Mithali and Jhulan had shared the locker room for nearly two decades and saw the tremendous growth of women’s cricket in India, sharing many memorable wins and some heartbreaking losses as well.
Mithali spoke to PTI about Jhulan’s tremendous impact, longevity and relentless hard work over the years, and started talking about the ‘Chakdaha Express’ early days when she joined the Indian team as a 19-year-old.
“We are the same age so we have that comfort level and communication. It was always very easy to get in touch and talk to her. Someone who always had a lot of energy on the ground can be because she is a fast bowler said Mithali.
The 39-year-old became the leading wicket-taker in ODIs through sheer dedication. While swing wasn’t her greatest weapon, accuracy and seam use earned her a pocket full of wickets.
The competitive spirit in Jhulan was evident even in the nets, Mithali recalls.
“In the nets I often asked her ‘why are you spitting fire, you’re my teammate alone after’. Then she would say ‘coming out is the hardest’. She always had the competitive streak, including domestic cricket where we often played against each other . I enjoyed that rivalry too.”
A fast bowler is expected to have a tough appearance, but Jhulan was also gentle at heart. Mithali recalled a game in domestic cricket that revealed Jhulan’s softer side.
“We played in the semi-finals (Railways vs Bengal). I didn’t wear my helmet during that domestic season. Jhulan aimed straight at my head and I left a lot of her bouncers behind.
“After a while she came up to me and said ‘why don’t you wear a helmet? I was like ‘I wasn’t wearing a helmet,’ how am I going to wear one?” Those were the fun moments.”
The former India captain said even the opposition would give her due respect, especially when she was at her peak.
“What struck her was her accuracy. She wasn’t much of a swing bowler, she was more of a bowler who would get the ball in and out. The cutters were her strength. At her peak, she barely gave loose balls.”
After the retirement of pacers Rumeli Dhar and Amita Sharma, Jhulan was the constant in India’s pace attack even when the team relied heavily on spin.
“She was a lone ranger from one end for a long time. She sometimes got support, but often she was the only one trying to exert pressure. That’s true even in recent times.” Both Mithali and Jhulan started playing at a time when women’s cricket was a neglected sport. It finally came under the umbrella of the BCCI in 2006.
“We probably had a lot of fun early in our career, although she was more of the receiving end of my jokes. As we got older and more mature we saw a lot of our teammates leave the game and we were both left between a bunch of new faces .
“Having her on the team helped because she was also that person who spoke and communicated with everyone. If I needed an opinion, she always gave it.”
Mithali also fondly remembers their partnerships in the middle.
“I also enjoyed hitting her and I always thought she could contribute a lot more with the bat.
“There were some good collaborations, some great wins, some bad losses, we’ve all been through it. It’s a sad moment (that she is retiring), but also a moment to celebrate someone who played for so long .easy to have such a career as a fast bowler.”
Speaking of Jhulan’s interests off the pitch, Mithali came up with some interesting revelations.
“She likes to read about politics, wants to know what is happening in the world. Her knowledge of men’s cricket stands out too. I would always tell her if I was ever on the hotseat (KBC) and a cricket question came up, she would be the first person are the ones I would call.”
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