“JHULAN IS Jhulan.” Mithu Mukherjee uses this to bookend her responses a few times over the 15-minute conversation. It seems apt in many ways. Jhulan Goswami had after all broken new ground for women’s cricket, once again. The world’s most successful female wicket-taker in international cricket, across formats, was no stranger to setting new benchmarks for her sport before she took the field in Galle.
With her two-wicket haul in the first ODI against Sri Lanka, the 35-year-old pacer set another one, this time becoming the first to take 300 wickets, and further accentuate her longstanding coach’s claim that Jhulan is indeed Jhulan, a cut above everyone else. To put it in context, the next best is former Australian pacer Cathryn Fitzpatrick, who finished with 240 wickets overall across Tests and ODIs.
Incidentally, Mukherjee had spent the previous evening watching James Anderson go past Glenn McGrath in Test cricket’s overall wickets’ tally. Back in her living-room in Kolkata, she reveals to have inadvertently drawn comparisons between the English swing legend and India’s foremost performer with the ball. “It’s different bowling spin at 35 and 36, after having done so for nearly 15 years. But when I saw Anderson running in ball after ball, I couldn’t but draw comparisons with Jhulan. It’s remarkable to see them not lose their momentum or their motivation despite having bowled their heart out for so long,” says Mukherjee, a former India cricketer herself and presently a Bengal selector.
Goswami is more McGrath though, at least in turning each wicket she takes into a special memory. “I remember all my 200 wickets,” she’d said last year after becoming the first woman to reach that milestone in ODI cricket. Goswami is not done yet, and is likely to have a lot more scalps to add to her enviable memory-bank, feels Mukherjee. She bases it on how her one-time pupil has not just managed to keep her motivation to don the India jersey alive, but managed to burgeon it quite dramatically. “Cricket is everything for Jhulan. And even before she left for Sri Lanka, she called me and said ‘Mithu di, I want to take a five-wicket haul on this tour. I haven’t got one for a while’,” recalls Mukherjee. Goswami’s last fifer, for the record, came in 2011.
It perhaps also shows in the lanky pacer’s recent decision to announce her retirement from T20I cricket, but continue toiling away in the longer format. “T20 is a bit fast and I am slowing down day by day. I found that I was mixing T20 and ODI. The thinking wasn’t clear; the driving force I wanted wasn’t there. Us chakkar mein I wasn’t enjoying my bowling,” she would tell Women’s CricZone in Galle following her latest record-book entry. That clarity of thought, Mukherjee adds, comes through a lot in Goswami’s bowling over the last few years. It shows up especiallly in how she’s gone from being a tearaway who could hit speeds not seen often in women’s cricket to a shrewder and cannier bowler.
“She used to have the pace, but was more dependent on the information she was receiving from her captain and the seniors. Now, she’s in control of every ball she bowls and knows exactly what she wants to achieve with each one of them, even if her speeds have dropped,” explains Mukherjee. “She’s also started working extensively on her fitness, follows her dietician’s orders very strictly, and wants to give a lot more to Indian cricket,” she adds. Goswami, who made her debut for India in 2002, has seen her life transform over the years, from the time she would have to endure two-hour train rides from Chakdah to Kolkata for training—at times without her parents’ consent. These days she owns two flats in the city, and when she isn’t busy with her training never fails to spend a few days with Mukherjee.
“She is a simple girl, who prefers to be quiet mostly. You will never hear a bad word from her about anyone. She has never forgotten her roots, and the first thing she did after tasting success was build a big house for her family in the village,” says Mukherjee.
A lot has changed over the years, both in terms of Goswami’s approach to her bowling as well as her pursuit of keeping her body going. Her love for Kishore Kumar and Rabindrasangeet has remained as strong as ever. “She loves to talk about their music and of course Bollywood movies,” adds Mukherjee.
So far ahead of the pack is Goswami in terms of her numbers, that she breaks new barriers pretty much every time she has ball in hand or takes a wicket. But the one abiding dream that remains unfulfilled is a World Cup trophy win, which she came very close to achieving last year in England. Mukherjee though isn’t ruling out Goswami adding that one elusive feather to her cap. Jhulan is Jhulan after all.