Her long arms went up in the air. She broke into a broad smile. The crowd cheered. Her teammates sprinted towards her. They hugged her. She was still smiling, soaking up the moment, possibly for one last time, relishing the sound most musical to a bowler’s ears – of the stumps being rattled.
It was wicket No. 255 for Jhulan Goswami in Women’s ODIs. The second on the list has 191.
It was also wicket No. 355 for Jhulan in international women’s cricket. The second on the list has 329.
We do not know for sure how long Jhulan will be on top of those lists. What we know is that we would be lucky if women’s cricket could produce another bowler like her. A skillful, hardworking bowler who could carry a country’s attack on her shoulders for two decades like her.
And she has been one half of a magnificent duo that helped the Indian women’s cricketers check out of dormitories and check into five-star hotels. The other half, Mithali Raj, retired a few months ago. Suddenly, the Indian women’s team is without its own Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.
While gifted batters like Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Shafali Verma have lessened the impact of the loss of Mithali, India’s seam attack will miss the consistency, accuracy and the wicket-taking ability of Jhulan. Bowlers like Pooja Vastrakar, Renuka Singh and Meghna Singh offer hope, though.
When Jhulan took up fast bowling, after watching Australia’s Cathryn Fitzpatrick in the 1997 Women’s World Cup final at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, where she was a ball girl, she didn’t have any Indian female quick to emulate. She had begun playing with tennis balls and copied the actions of Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Malcolm Marshall after watching them on television.
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Little could she have imagined that she would inspire so many girls across India to take up pace bowling, one of the most demanding jobs in cricket. That she excelled in such a job for some 20 years – just rewind her in-swinger to Beth Mooney at the pink-ball Test against Australia last year – is truly remarkable.
It is unfortunate though that the last moment of her career was marred by the controversy following the Mankading incident. But, before that, her teammates, the England players, the crowd and even the umpires at Lord’s had shown how much respect she commanded as a one-of-kind cricketer.