There’s a line in a Rabindra Sangeet which, if loosely translated into English, asks a day-tripper to think about the person who walked through a broken path in the night with a lamp in his/her hand. When Jhulan Goswami started playing the game, women’s cricket in India was sleepwalking at night, mired in indifference. Two decades down the line, when India and England cricketers lined up to form a guard of honour in her final game at Lord’s on Saturday, the picture looked rosy. There was a time when a former BCCI president didn’t react too kindly to a query from a former Indian women’s team captain about the roadmap for women’s cricket in the country. Come 2023, and the BCCI is set to launch the women’s IPL.
Goswami acted as a bridge between the two generations which speaks volumes for her perseverance and longevity. The hard numbers say that the 39-year-old retired as the highest wicket-taker in women’s internationals with 355 scalps. But Goswami has always been a lot more than just the numbers in the wickets column. For so long she has been synonymous with women’s cricket in India. She was nippy — north of 130kph at her peak — but Goswami’s longevity was down to her ability to evolve. She had a terrific inswinger and then worked hard to develop other skill-sets, especially the ball that held its line. It became potent enough to completely outsmart Australia’s Meg Lanning at the 2017 World Cup semifinal.
Goswami’s story is about a Chakdaha girl growing into the game to become a role model for cricket loving girls. For more than a decade she was the flag-bearer of fast bowling in the Indian women’s team — Shikha Pandey came later. Not winning a World Cup would remain a void in her glittering career. She played two 50-over World Cup finals and a T20 World Cup final, but the team stumbled at the final hurdle. The Indian women’s team would eventually win an ICC event, riding on the Mandhanas and the Harmanpreets. And when they do, they would certainly doff their hats to the likes of Goswami who taught them to dream big. The guard of honour at Lord’s attested to unequivocal respect.