It was in May 2021 and we were all reeling under the impact of the second wave. Covid had come close to hurting almost each one of us and the scare was deep. Not much was still known about the virus and vaccines were just becoming a reality for us in India. Yet we needed our lives back. The walls of the house were fast turning claustrophobic. Each day at home was grim reminder things weren’t right. Sport had not yet picked up globally and it wasn’t something we had ever seen before. Frankly, a lot of us were depressed. That’s when she called. “The lockdown is being relaxed this week and we can go to out and run”, she said. “I need to train outdoors for training at home isn’t going to be enough. Will you come with me?”, she asked. “Each second I stay at home will impact my fitness and my well being”, said Jhulan Goswami. She was restless. All of us were. But in her case time was calling out on her and no one knew it more than Jhulan herself. With an insatiable hunger to do something for the country and push till the last stride, she had called to ask if I had come good N95 masks, which she could then come and pick. She would train in them and carry some to England for the tour. What was interesting was Jhulan wasn’t scared of the virus. All that mattered to her was cricket. And India. And her team. Each ball bowled was a mission accomplished. Each session was a vindication of sorts. At 39, Jhulan was ready for the hard yards. Getting up at 5am to run, train before people started trooping in, plan innovative drills at home to keep things going, run more than every youngster who trained with her. And frankly this was very Jhulan. All she knows is to work the hardest and train the hardest. Not leave things to chance and prepare the best she can.
For two decades, Jhulan Goswami could not afford to let down thousands of aspiring women whose sense of self-belief and Indianness had been shaped by her. That Indians can bowl fast, redefine the narrative and aspire to greatness is Jhulan’s contribution to the sport. Most importantly, Goswami isn’t part of fiction and while Anushka Sharma is doing her best to project Goswami on celluloid, for the purist there is always the real Goswami to go back to. Goswami has picked her wickets in front of thousands. She was there for the fans in flesh and blood, for people to experience and be a part of her journey, enjoy and consume the acts few had dared to even attempt before her.
Women’s cricket before Raj and Goswami was used to discrimination for the longest time. It was expected that the girls would travel second class. That they will not run up and rattle the batters with pace. Not bowl a bouncer and look men in the eye. Get the ball to kick up after being hit for a four and give the batter a wry smile. The girls were used to the narrative of underprivilege, content at playing second fiddle. They were used to missing out. The Mil-Jhul narrative was different. Goswami’s narrative was one of dominance and assertion, of winning and achievement. Of bowling fast and breaking taboos, creating a niche that now many will want to emulate.
On her birthday while I wish her a very happy and healthy birthday it is also timely to remember what she has done for the sport. She has enriched it and may I say cricket has always celebrated its true devotees and she is one.