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Interview | Accuracy has always been Jhulan Goswami’s strength: Mithali Raj

In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, Raj talks about Goswami and the fine moments that they shared on the field over two decades

September 23, 2022 / 09:16 PM IST
Jhulan Goswami (right) and Mithali Raj in 2018. (Photo by G Krishnan)

Jhulan Goswami (right) and Mithali Raj in 2018. (Photo by G Krishnan)

A glorious chapter in Indian women’s cricket, nay world cricket, comes to an end on Saturday at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, as Jhulan Goswami plays her last international cricket.

In a career spanning more than 20 years, the 39-year-old right-arm medium-pacer from Bengal sits on top of the ODI wicket-takers list with 253 sticks from 203 matches with a career-best 6 for 31 coming against New Zealand in 2011.

Goswami has also played in 12 Tests and 68 T20Is. As she prepares to play her 204th and final ODI on Saturday, Moneycontrol caught up with former India captain Mithali Raj, whose international career ran parallel with Goswami.

The two were the pillars of Indian women’s cricket for two decades, starting almost at the same time and ending their international careers in the same year. Mithali and Goswami have played together in 12 Tests (all of Goswami’s), 201 ODIs (the current ODI series in England is the only one that Goswami has played without Mithali) and 63 T20Is.

In this exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, Mithali talks about Goswami and the fine moments that they shared on the field over two decades. Excerpts:

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Q: How do you look back at Jhulan’s career?

A: As a bowler from where she began her international career to where she is ending, it is purely because of her hard work and work ethics towards her skills. For a fast bowler to have a long career, it is always challenging. Maybe now with the leagues and all other tournaments, the girls play regularly. The number of matches today has increased. In those days, the matches were less and we were a lot more into training.

Q: What was special about Jhulan?

A: Accuracy was always her strength. She’s not a swing bowler but somebody who’d get the ball to nip and move off the wicket. In conditions that assist fast bowlers, she is difficult to play. I have enjoyed playing with her, more so the batting partnerships that we have shared. There have been many memorable wins from bad situations and we have been together in those. All through, we have been part of a dressing for a very long time.

As a bowler, she has been an asset and shouldering the responsibility for 10-12 years. After Amita Sharma and Rumeli Dhar, she has had many bowling partners including Niranjana Nagarajan for a while, a little longer with Shikha Pandey, and now there are some young fast bowlers. But, Jhulan has been one constant from one end for the last 10-12 years. She was the person who was taking the responsibility for that department in the team.

As a young fast bowler, Jhulan did have her temperament, which is a part of any fast bowler. Over the years, she sobered down a bit. She has been the guiding factor to all the fast bowlers who came into the side, guiding them and helping them.

Q: You mentioned sharing some memorable batting partnerships with Jhulan. What was Jhulan the batter like? Did she realise her potential as a batter?

A: She did show glimpses of becoming a potential all-rounder in the team. But she never worked on her batting. I personally felt she should have taken her batting seriously. I always told her, ‘why do you not work on your batting? You will always be an asset coming lower down the order’. She’d rub it off saying, ‘No, no, what batting will I do?’ We have had some memorable partnerships. During the Test innings in which I made 214 (against England in Taunton in 2002), I had a partnership of 157 runs for seventh wicket with Jhulan. (Goswami made 62 batting at No. 8). Also, in that famous ODI win at Lords’ (2012) when I scored the winning runs (94 not out), Jhulan was the batter at the non-striker’s end. There were many such occasions in which both of us would walk back after winning the match for the country. It’s fun to bat with her.

Q: Was Jhulan your go-to bowler when you were the India captain?

A: When you have an experienced player in your bowling set-up who has control, it was natural that I would go to Jhulan. She was my go-to person when the situation was tight. She gets all her experience into use. There have been many such occasions like that.

Q: Which spells of Jhulan do you fondly recall?

A: As you mentioned, we have played together in 201 ODIs, 68 T20Is and 12 Tests. It’s a long list. Right now, I can only think of the Test match (against England in Taunton in 2006), in England in which she got five wickets in each innings. Obviously, English conditions have always been helpful for fast bowlers. In that Test match, she got five for 33 and five for 45, and in the following year she won the ICC Women’s Player of the Year award. That was one of her best performances. She was at her peak. Whenever I got her for short spells, she’d always give me breakthroughs.

In the 2017 World Cup, she may not have been at her best throughout the tournament. But the spell against Australia in the semifinals in which she got their captain Meg Lanning out for nought, I very well remember that ball that clean bowled Lanning as I was standing at mid-off.

Q: Do you see a big void being created after her retirement?

A: We’ll probably feel her absence for a couple of series. Renuka Singh and Meghna Singh are there. We will probably take a couple of years to groom the potential or the talent that we have in the domestic circuit. What Jhulan is today is the experience of so many years. We cannot see someone immediately taking her place. At some point, the Indian team will also nurture young talent. With the exposure the current players have by playing leagues and the Challengers, there are so many avenues where they get to play matches. They may not come in raw like how we were raw when we made our debuts. They come in with some experience already. We might see different bowlers. I also feel that the sport will never wait for anybody. It is always moving. We will always get players. It is a matter of giving some time to the players that the Board identifies and nurtures them. With the U-19 Women’s World Cup next year, we will see some talent.

Q: Was this the best time for her to quit?

A: She is the best judge to take in the factors. Obviously, you are not young. She has to consider her fitness, the load her body can take by playing one-day cricket. For a bowler, in T20s, it is an hour and 15 minutes. ODIs are very different. I personally feel that the ODI World Cups would be the right time for any player who has had a long career to quit, if they are thinking about retirement. After the World Cup, there will be a change with every team. The team will try to groom players, look for combinations for the next World Cup. If the management is thinking in a certain line and it wants to see if certain plans are going to work for the ODIs and you are not going to be playing in the next ODIs WC, it makes no sense to continue playing. This is my personal opinion.

When it comes to Jhulan, she is the best judge to take the call. The emotional state that she is in, the physical fitness are all what an athlete considers before deciding to hang the boots.

Q: What is that one thing that comes to mind when you think of Jhulan?

A: Of course, her bowling skills are there. The sort of impact she gets through her skills is amazing. That’s there for all to see.

On the lighter side, when everyone else is quiet at the ground, I can hear one person cheering for the team from one corner of the ground, and that is Jhulan. This has happened many times. As captain, I’d be calculating certain things and the ground is quiet. Jhulan is the one encouraging everyone on the ground. It is this facet of Jhulan that I will always remember.

Q: How was it off the field with Jhulan?

A: We both are very different as people, as personalities. We were different as people. I would not say extreme but different as persons.

 

 
Guru Krishnan
first published: Sep 23, 2022 09:07 pm
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