When Rumeli Dhar made it to India’s playing eleven in the T20Is against South Africa in 2018, the cricketing fraternity was abuzz with comparisons with Statemate 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. Even though she could not cement her place, Rumeli remained a regular performer in the domestic circuit.
On Wednesday, Rumeli, now 38, announced her retirement from all forms of cricket. One of India’s prominent seam all-rounders, she burst on to the scene in 2003, making her debut against England. In her long and illustrious career, she featured in four Tests, 78 ODIs and 18 T20Is for India between 2003 and 2018. A genuine all-rounder, she was accurate with her medium pace and was also a handy batter at the top order. She played a key role in taking India into the final of the 2005 World Cup in South Africa.
Hours after announcing her decision, Rumeli spoke to Sportstar on her future plans, her regrets, partnership with Jhulan Goswami, and more. Excerpts...
Q. What is next for Rumeli Dhar?
A. I love to coach and that’s something I have done for a while. Even now, I do personal one-on-one coaching with youngsters and I would like to be associated with any State as a professional coach. I take that challenge and will try to do better in my coaching career, so that’s my aim.
In 2018, you made a comeback to international cricket after a long gap. So, when you look back, what are the takeaways from your long and illustrious career?
The most memorable moment in my international career is the 2005 World Cup, where we reached the final. Though we could not win the title, it was a fantastic campaign as that was the first time we were the runners-up in a World Cup. Another precious moment was when I made my comeback in 2018.
When you broke into the Indian team in 2003, women’s cricket was different. How do you assess those times?
Back then, we did not have so much money or fame, but the level of satisfaction was quite high. At the end of the day, that is very important. Yes, when you look back, at times you do feel that there wasn’t any money or fame at that time, but back then, we would be happier to play more matches. That was the only thing that bothered us. We enjoyed every opportunity. We were happy with whatever we got.
Many in the cricketing fraternity felt that injuries cut short your career. How did you handle those phases?
Yes, I had a lot of injuries in my peak career. I recovered and came back strongly in 2018. Whenever there is an injury, an individual goes through a bad phase, mentally. There would be times when I wanted to quit the game, but in those times, my family, friends and well-wishers helped me. With their support, I stood up for myself and I am thankful to the DDCA for giving me ample opportunities that time. After playing for Delhi, I made a comeback in 2018, so it was a big opportunity that DDCA gave me. In those times, wherever I wanted to bat or bowl, they never said no. They backed me, trusted me and I could deliver.
I want to do a similar thing as a coach. When I work with youngsters, I want to make sure that I trust them completely. I want to ensure that I keep my students away from the negativity that I have faced in my career.
When you made it to the Indian career, the Jhulan-Rumeli pair was much talked about. How was the experience of spearheading the pace department alongside Jhulan?
We never thought that Jhulan or Mithali were our seniors or that they played more games than me. Mithali had already played in the 2000 World Cup, but they never had any airs and were very approachable. With Anjum Chopra, we were like, “Oh, she is a senior!” but even she did not have any airs, so it was a good atmosphere.
With Jhulan, I was always very comfortable. I always loved bowling with her in the Indian team. After a long hiatus, I got to bowl with Jhulan for Bengal in the last season during the first game against Rajasthan. I spearheaded the bowling attack with Jhulan and now she is a legend, but on the field, there was no pressure. My simple idea was that, ‘ Mera dost bowl daal rahi hai (It’s my friend who is bowling), I have seen this for years and I need to continue with that…’
We had conversations on how we will bowl from two ends. That day, I felt as if I was playing international cricket again.
Looking back, do you think that there are a few things that could have been done differently to prolong the career?
Yeah, I always regret some of the things. I can’t disclose all of those because it is personal, but I do regret it. Today, I knew that I would announce my retirement, but even then, I woke up with a regret that I could have still played for the Indian team and don the India jersey again. Maybe, when I wake up tomorrow, I will still have that regret. So, that’s a part of life. Maybe, I had made some mistakes in my career and perhaps I had to pay for that. But it’s O.K. I have now retired and when I start my coaching career, I will ensure that I will not make those mistakes. I will ensure that there are no regrets on that front.
With Women’s IPL set to begin next year, it will open up a window of opportunities for Indian coaches. How do you see that?
Had I not retired, maybe I would have got a chance to play in the IPL. But woh kab hoga kaise hoga (how that will happen), that I can’t think of now. Those things were not in my hands, so I want to take up coaching and nurture young talents. That’s the reason I made this decision. I am a very emotional person and going forward, I want to give back to the game.
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