Mithali Raj: ‘Jhulan would spit fire even in the nets’

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Jhulan Goswami‘s commitment to the game was such that she would “spit fire” even while bowling in the nets, according to her longtime team-mate and captain Mithali Raj.

Having shared the dressing room for close to two decades, Raj and Goswami saw the massive growth of women’s cricket in India, shared many memorable wins and also some heartbreaking losses.

“We are of the same age, so we have that comfort level and communication,” Raj said. “It was always very easy to reach out to her and speak to her. Someone who was always high on energy on the ground, may be because she is a fast bowler.”

Though swing was not her biggest weapon, accuracy and use of the seam got her a bagful of wickets as Goswami eventually became the leading wicket-taker in ODIs.

The competitive spirit in Goswami was very much evident even in the nets, recalled Raj.

“In the nets, I would often ask her ‘why are you spitting fire, you are my team-mate only na’. Then she would say ‘to get out is the toughest’. She always had the competitive streak including domestic cricket where we played against each other often. I enjoyed that rivalry as well.”

Raj also recollected a game in domestic cricket that revealed Goswami’s softer side.

“We were playing in the semi-finals [Railways versus Bengal]. I did not carry my helmet during that domestic season. Jhulan was aiming right at my head and I did leave a lot of her bouncers.

“After a while, she came up to me and said, ‘Why are you not wearing a helmet?’ I was like, ‘I did not carry a helmet, how will I wear one?’ Those were the fun times.”

The former India captain said even the opposition would give her due respect, especially when she was at her peak.

“What stood out was her accuracy. She was not much of a swing bowler, she was more of a bowler who would get the ball in and out. The cutters were her strength. At her peak, she would hardly give loose balls.”

After the retirement of pacers Rumeli Dhar and Amita Sharma, Goswami was the constant in India’s pace attack, even as the team relied heavily on spin.

“She was a lone ranger from one end for a very long time. She would get support at times but often she would be the only one trying to put pressure. That holds true even in recent times.”

Both Raj and Goswami started playing at a time when women’s cricket was a neglected sport, before it finally came under the BCCI’s umbrella in 2006.

“We had a lot of fun probably early in our careers though she was more at the receiving end of my pranks. As we got older and matured, we saw many of our team-mates leave the game and both of us were left among a bunch of new faces.

“Having her in the team helped because she was also that person who would speak to everybody and communicate. Whenever I needed an opinion she would always give one.”

Raj also fondly remembers their partnerships in the middle.

“I enjoyed batting with her as well and I always thought she could contribute a lot more with the bat. There were some good partnerships, some amazing wins, some bad losses, we have seen it all through. It is a sad moment [that she is retiring] but also a moment to celebrate someone who played for such a long time. It is not easy to have a career like that as fast bowler.”

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