Hard work pays

Jhulan Goswami winning the ICC award is a shot in the arm for women's cricket in India. "I am sure a lot more girls will take up the sport and there will be a lot more focus on women’s cricket in India," she says in a chat with S. Sabanayakan.

From an ordinary village girl playing cricket for fun a decade ago to becoming the world’s best — Jhulan Goswami, India’s vice-captain, has come a long way. When the 24-year-old girl from Chakdah, near Kolkata, West Bengal, was adjudged the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year in early September in Johannesburg, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in the annals of women’s cricket in India.

Forever in the shadow of their illustrious male counterparts, the lot of women cricketers in India was unenviable. Yet they soldiered on. Jhulan’s early childhood was like that of any other girl in her village. Eldest of the three children of an Indian Airlines employee, Jhulan and her sister played volleyball, football, badminton and cricket with the boys in their locality.

A visit to Eden Gardens one winter day, in 1997, changed Jhulan’s life. The women’s World Cup final (Australia versus New Zealand) made such an impact on her mind that she decided to take up the game seriously. She left her local club in Chakdah and moved to Vivekananda Park in south Kolkata, where she came under coach Swapan Sadhu.

Jhulan made an immediate impact after she was named in the West Bengal squad to play in the Junior National Championship. She then quickly made her debut for West Bengal in the National Championship, where her impressive performance with the new ball earned her an offer to play for Air-India.

Jhulan made her one-day international debut for India against England in Chennai on January 2, 2002. Eight days later, she made her Test debut in Lucknow.

Sportstar spoke to Jhulan on her arrival from Johannesburg.

The excerpts:

Question: How does it feel winning the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year award?

Answer: I am greatly honoured to get the award. The award is not only for me, but for the country and for the sport in India. What made it really special was that nobody from India was nominated for the ICC awards in the men’s category. Besides, I am the second winner of the award, after Karen Rolton of Australia won it last year. And then, I was up against two really good players, Lisa Sthalekar of Australia and Claire Taylor of England. I was really excited to win the award because the other two are great players.

Now that an Indian woman has won the ICC award for the first time, do you think it will have an impact on women’s cricket in India?

Of course, it will certainly make an impact on the sport in the country. I am sure a lot more girls will take up the sport and there will be a lot more focus on women’s cricket in India. Things have started changing already, and my winning the award will certainly speed up the process of development of women’s cricket in the country.

You won the award at a time when women’s cricket in India was not in the best of health…

I cannot comment on the health of women’s cricket in the country. But I admit the women cricketers in India did not enjoy the best of facilities.

Despite all the drawbacks, lack of infrastructure and other things, women’s cricket thrived. Maybe with better facilities, the sport could have developed faster. I suppose we, the women cricketers, played with a lot of heart, shed a lot of sweat and genuinely held the country above everything. Now that women’s cricket has come under the BCCI, I am sure the next generation will benefit a lot more.

Don’t you think the pace of development of women’s cricket should really pick up?

The good news is that things are beginning to change for the better. All are trying their level best and putting in sincere efforts to develop the game. I am sure a lot more benefits will come the women cricketers’ way soon.

What is the impetus one gets from being a woman cricketer in India?

I don’t think all those who played for the country in the past or the present players took to the game to enhance their personal status. They played the game for the sheer love of it. When I began to play the game seriously, I had a dream — to play for India. At that point of time it seemed a huge task. But once I made it to the National side, not only did I fulfil my dream but quickly changed my priority to excel for the country. Even now I look to improve and learn the game each day. The award is only a culmination of the efforts I and my Indian team-mates have put in over the years.

The persons you would love to remember during this glorious moment of your career?

As I bask in the glory of my latest achievement, I like to remember and thank my coach Swapan Sadhu and my first captain at Air-India, Purnima Rau. They had a tremendous influence on both my cricketing career and my personal life. All the successes I achieved on the cricket field were because of the support and guidance I received from them. Purnima was instrumental in changing my outlook towards life. She is my friend, philosopher and guide. I owe her a lot.

Then there is Tarak Sinha, who coached the Indian team for a while. I cannot forget his contribution. I also owe a lot to my senior team-mates in Air-India, Anjum Chopra and Anju Jain. There are many others too who helped shape my career as a cricketer.

What is your message to the young and aspiring cricketers?

I have always believed that there is no substitute for hard work. This coupled with determination, positive attitude and love for the game will help a budding player a lot. My other advice to them is, enjoy the game. Without enjoyment I don’t think anybody can achieve anything in life.

Your future plans…

I will continue to play. Now that I have been adjudged the world’s best, I have to shoulder a lot of responsibility whenever I play, be it for India, my state or my office team. I cannot take it easy. The pressure will be more and I will have to live up to the expectations. I also cannot take my place in the Indian team for granted.

I still believe that only consistent performance will guarantee me a place in the Indian team. I am willing to work hard to keep my place in the team.