Rumeli Dhar, the comeback girl at 34

Six years after being left out of the national side, cricketer Rumeli Dhar was called up as a replacement for Jhulan Goswami in the T20 series in South Africa.

A career threatening injury in 2012 ruled Rumeli Dhar out of the national radar; it took her six years to stage a return.   -  K.R. DEEPAK

 

When Rumeli Dhar made it to India’s playing eleven against South Africa in the fourth T20, the cricketing fraternity was abuzz with comparisons with her state-mate and former India captain Sourav Ganguly.

While Ganguly made a comeback into the national side at 33, it took one more year for Rumeli. She returned at 34 — six years after being left out of the side.

A lot changed over these years. From no-hopers, India’s women cricketers managed to eke out a name for themselves — thanks to consistent performances and finishing runners-up in the World Cup in 2017. But even as her team-mates basked in the glory, Rumeli —an erstwhile India captain — was not in the scheme of things. The result was simple, the all-rounder was almost forgotten by all and sundry for long.

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However, taking the fraternity by surprise, Rumeli was called-up earlier this month as a replacement for Jhulan Goswami. Many found this strange, given the fact that the Indian women’s team —following footsteps of the men’s team — too had developed a tendency to go for young blood.

But once Rumeli took the field, all went silent.

She showed glimpses of her past, scalping three wickets from two games, and took off in a manner, as if she was just another young gun, waiting for her moment of glory.

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“To be honest, it was extremely difficult. But then, deep inside, I knew I wanted to be there in the team. I wanted to come back to the side,” Rumeli told Sportstar on Tuesday. She had only reached Delhi — where she’s been staying for sixteen years now — early on Monday after an extremely satisfying South Africa tour. “Mujhe nahi chhor na tha cricket (I didn’t want to leave cricket) and that is one thing I have maintained all throughout. Come what may, I would not give up,” she added.

The comeback route

Her road to comeback was quite bumpy. A career threatening injury in 2012 saw her missing out on India berth and even after recovering, Rumeli — an employee of the Northern Railways — joined the women’s side of Rajasthan and later moved to Assam. Those stints restored her confidence but were not enough to bring her closer to the national side.

When she joined the Delhi team and played a key role in the side’s T20 title victory this season, the tide turned.

But what would have happened had her old friend Goswami not been injured? Would she still have made it to the side? Most importantly, what happens when Goswami returns fit?

Mithali’s belief

Rumeli — who does not feature in India’s ODI squad against Australia, announced on Tuesday — is not willing to think too much. “I am not thinking about that long rope. My job was to perform and I did that. Now it’s over to the team management,” she reasoned, quickly adding that coming back after six years and taking the ground was quite a thing. “The national anthem and the jersey inspire a cricketer. I am happy that our coach (Tushar) Arothe and Mithali (Raj) had the belief that I can perform,” she said.

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But then, was there any change in mindset when she joined the team in South Africa, especially at a time when most of the players are pretty young? “It did not even come to my mind that there should be a change in mindset. Why would I? I have played with Harmanpreet Kaur and others, so there was no question of feeling indifferent. They gave me a warm welcome and that was something really satisfying for a senior player,” Rumeli, who was part of India’s 2005 World Cup team that reached the finals, pointed out.

Batch of 2005 and 2018

So, how does she differentiate between the two teams — of 2005 and now? “That group of 2005 was really good and so is this one. If this team can keep the momentum till the next World Cup, it will surely be the top-ranked side in the world,” Rumeli added.

Until a few weeks back, she did not know whether an India chance would come her way, but now, she wants to be an inspiration to women cricketers. “My family and friends were pushing me a lot. I think my indomitable attitude is paying off. In general it is tough to return at 34, there will be players who would give up. Now perhaps, people would find inspiration and think of not giving up,” she summed up.

Six years taught her enough. It’s time to dream again!