It’s a bright morning at Porvorim, Goa. Jhulan Goswami, the No. 1 bowler in the ICC ranking for women, has just finished her practice at the nets at the Goa Cricket Association Academy Ground. Her face lights up when this writer tells her that the interview is for Sportstar.
“I grew up reading Sportstar in Kolkata,” says Jhulan, the captain of the Bengal team for the BCCI senior women’s one-day league in Goa. “As a young girl, I used to collect all those posters of stars like Diego Maradona and Gabriela Sabatini that Sportstar gave with the magazine.”
Though as a young girl in Kolkata she followed different sports, Jhulan fell in love with cricket after being a ball girl for the 1997 women’s World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand. “I had already started playing a bit of tennis-ball cricket, but watching that World Cup final from such close quarters made me want to be a cricketer,” she recalls. “I felt I too could one day play in a World Cup final.”
That dream came true when India played Australia in the final of the 2005 World Cup in South Africa. India lost that match, though. “We did not play well,” says Jhulan, who was once the world’s fastest bowler in women’s cricket. “We were beaten by a superior Australian side.”
Those were the days when women like Jhulan were finding it difficult to play cricket: there was no money, no infrastructure and no incentives. Things changed when the BCCI took over the administration of women’s cricket in 2006.
It got even better recently when the BCCI introduced the central contract system for woman cricketers. Jhulan and Mithali Raj have been given Grade A contracts; they would get Rs. 15 lakh each.
“It is a great thing the BCCI has done,” she says. “Ever since the BCCI took over women’s cricket, our situation improved considerably; we now get better facilities to train, better accommodation and yes, more money. Now, a young girl could afford to think of a career in cricket.”
Jhulan’s career as an international cricketer began in 2002. Over the last 13 years, she has helped India win several matches, mostly with her bowling, and on occasions, with the bat too.
A few months ago, her heroic batting helped India beat New Zealand in a low-scoring ODI in Bengaluru. Jhulan hammered 57 off 67 balls to rescue India, who were reeling at 87 for eight.
“It was definitely one of my better knocks for India,” she says. “I thought we could post a competitive score if I got support from the other end. I just wanted to be there till the end, and was banking on the powerplay.”
However, Jhulan is more proud about her achievements in Test cricket. “To me Test cricket is the ultimate,” she says. “I would happily trade my No. 1 ranking in bowling for India’s No. 1 slot in Tests.”
She has starred in some of India’s greatest moments in Tests. She took 10 wickets at Taunton in 2006 to lead India to their first ever Test victory against England. India also won the series.
“That Test win is the best thing to have happened to me,” she says. “Bowling in the fourth innings was tough as the wicket had become flat. When there was something for the bowlers, we were batting. But Anjum Chopra and Mithali Raj batted well. When I bowled, I tried to bowl in the right areas and took five wickets in each innings.”
The former India captain, however, regrets that she has been able to play only 10 Tests during the last 13 years while during the same period she has featured in 143 ODIs. Jhulan has played so few Tests because India played only in as many.
“I wish we had more Tests,” she says. “I think the BCCI is planning more Tests for us.”
Among Jhulan’s most cherished moments in ODI are her six-wicket haul against New Zealand in Southgate in 2011 and her maiden five-wicket haul, which came against England in Silchar in 2005. She feels India has evolved as a good ODI side; the team beat New Zealand 3-2 in the recent series.
“We have a good team now,” she says. “We could win the World Cup, provided we hold our nerves.”
The World Cup, though, is two years away, but the Twenty20 World Cup, which India is hosting, is not far away; it will be held from March 15 to April 6.
“We have good chances,” says Jhulan. “But the Twenty20 is so unpredictable.”
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