Jhulan: Good thing that the monkey is off my back

India’s Jhulan Goswami has claimed the most wickets in women’s ODIs, surpassing the woman who she looked up to, Australia’s Cathryn Fitzpatrick.

India’s Jhulan Goswami during a practice session at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

This is a most-wanted list of a different kind. It’s the list that all bowlers want to be on. And two fast bowlers currently occupy the top two slots.

At the very top is an Indian, but for many years now, that position was held by an Australian. Finally, India’s Jhulan Goswami has claimed ODI cricket’s biggest record for bowlers: the most wickets in women’s ODIs, surpassing the woman who she looked up to, Cathryn Fitzpatrick.

Goswami is now relieved. She has finally achieved something that has been after for two years now. For some time now, she has been within touching distance of Fitzpatrick’s tally of 180 wickets. Finally at 34, 15 years into her international career, she has crossed it. And the timing was not bad at all.

“It’s good that it happened before the World Cup”, she said, speaking exclusively to Sportstar from South Africa. “It’s a good thing that the monkey is off my back.”

The looming World Cup is the primary source of her relief. Remember how much Sachin struggled as he closed in on 100 hundreds? To go into an important tournament, possibly one she may not play again, with the record still in sight, but not in hand would have been less than ideal. But aside from the relief, her dominant emotion was joy. “It feels good to finally get it,” she said.

But putting it out of her mind was not easy. “It was more challenging in the last few series”, she said. “It was there (in my mind) since the New Zealand series (June 2015). Earlier I was trying for the record, but then I finally decided to let it go and leave it to destiny. Then I started thinking about bowling well, from the Australia series (January 2016).”

She had a long wait, though. At the start of the series against New Zealand in 2015, she was 14 wickets away from the record. A good performance, the odd burst of wickets in a clutch, and she might have thought she could achieve it in her next 10 matches. Instead it took her 15. More importantly, these 15 ODIs were spread over almost two years, with women not playing as much international cricket as the men.

Then, when she was just four shy of the record, she sustained an injury to her shoulder, days before the team was to depart for the ICC women’s World Cup Qualifiers. The tournament featured the bottom four teams in the ICC Women’s Championship table, and as such there would have been some easy pickings for someone of Goswami’s pace and calibre. Instead she had to wait six months since her last ODI, and finally reached the mark in the current quadrangular tournament in South Africa.

Cathryn Fitzpatrick of Australia in action during the IWCC World Cup match between New Zealand and Australia at the L.C. Oval on March 24, 2005 in Pretoria, South Africa.   -  Getty Images

“Sometimes you need to show more patience”, she said, reflecting on that period. “You have to wait, you have to give time to things. If you don’t, then you tend to forget the basics. Later I realised that I was forgetting the processes, and told myself that I need to think about the processes more than anything.”

After Goswami did finally claim the top spot, more than 9000 kilometres away, Cathryn Fitzpatrick’s phone beeped. Sitting on her couch in her Melbourne home, having just returned from a coaching stint in Japan, she read a WhatsApp message from a friend telling her about the achievement. That was how Fitzpatrick found out; she isn’t on any other social medium. And speaking exclusively to Sportstar, she showed no qualms about giving up a record she held for more than 10 years.

“My initial reaction was that I’m happy for her, and I was trying to work out how I would congratulate her and didn’t really come up with an answer to that!” she said. “I knew it was coming, so I’m not disappointed. It’s hard to really say that there was too much emotion attached to the record.”

The former Aussie speedster is considered the world’s fastest ever female bowler, consistently bowling at speeds reported to be above 120 kmph. She became the first woman to take 100 ODI wickets and never let her lead slip, raising the bar to 180 before she retired at 37. She was pleased that it was another fast bowler who had replaced her, particularly one she had enjoyed playing against.

“I’ve known Jhulan for a long time, from when she first started playing for India”, said Fitzpatrick from Melbourne. “Whenever I saw her I would always have a chat and make some time to catch up with her.”

“I think it is good that it’s a fast bowler (who now holds the record); if it was a spin bowler who I didn’t really know as well, I would probably be less attached. Because it is a fast bowler, it’s a nice thing, and the fact that it’s Jhulan is an extra bonus.”

Fitzpatrick herself took just 109 matches to get 180 wickets, while Goswami has played 153. The Aussie attributed it to playing in a really strong Australian team, and the confidence that brought her as a bowler. Also, when she was in her prime, very few batters were used to the pace she bowled at, whereas most batters today are better equipped. “And we had good people who could hold on to catches in the slips”, she added.

Goswami has a chance to build a healthy lead on that list now. The only other active player in the top five is Anisa Mohammed of the West Indies, who is fifth with 136 wickets. “Hopefully Jhulan will hold on to it for a while,” echoed Fitzpatrick.

As for Goswami, she was focused on maintaining the consistency that had brought her success so far. “India to sab khelte hai” (everybody plays for India). Consistently performing at the international level; that is the biggest thing,” she said.

“Wohi concistency ke peeche bhag rahi thi main. Bhagte bhagte milestones aa gaye.”

(I just ran after that consistency. And the milestones came).

The writer is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist.

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