Within hours of the official announcement of her biopic "Chakda Xpress" on 6th January 2022, the internet was inundated with articles narrating Jhulan Goswami’s rags-to-riches tale. That day, she completed 20 years in international cricket.
Despite hailing from a small town like Chakdaha in West Bengal’s Nadia district, Goswami dreamt of donning an Indian shirt and winning laurels for her country in international cricket. Initially a big football fan, Goswami’s interest drifted towards cricket when she saw Belinda Clark’s Australia take a victory lap around Eden Gardens after their triumph over New Zealand in the 1997 Women’s World Cup final. Goswami was a ball girl in the match.
The feisty pacer soon started honing her skills and made her international debut in an ODI against England in Chennai in 2002. Goswami started playing cricket at a time when the sport offered almost nothing for Indian women. However, she fought against all odds and kept toiling hard to carve her niche in women’s international cricket.
At 39, Goswami is more than a cricketer. The former Indian captain is now an institution whose guidance will nourish Indian women’s cricket for many more years to come.
Despite being the highest-ever wicket-taker (340 scalps) in women’s international cricket and winning several individual accolades, Goswami refuses to slow down. Even today, she is one of India’s most potent match-winners and the second-ranked bowler in women’s ODI cricket.
Having retired from T20Is in 2018, Goswami continues to chase the one trophy that has eluded her big cabinet – the World Cup. She candidly said:
"Winning the World Cup has been my childhood dream."
India came close to winning the title in 2005 and 2017, but finished runners-up on both occasions. Will the upcoming edition of the World Cup – originally scheduled for 2021 but eventually postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – mark a watershed moment for Indian women’s cricket and be the fitting swansong for the iconic duo of Goswami and Mithali Raj? Only time will tell.
A few days before flying to New Zealand to play a five-match bilateral ODI series and later the World Cup, Goswami gave an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda from her Chakdaha residence.
The Arjuna Awardee and Padma Shri recipient recounted her fondest memories from her glorious career, reflected on the transformation of Indian women’s cricket post the 2017 World Cup and said that the time is ripe for a Women’s IPL.
Goswami, however, remained tight-lipped about her future plans and refrained from commenting on the exclusions of Jemimah Rodrigues, Shikha Pandey and Punam Raut from the World Cup squad. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
Q: Congratulations on completing 20 years in international cricket. What have been your fondest memories during this period?
Goswami: It has been a long journey, so there are plenty of good memories. The ones that immediately come to mind are the Test series win in England in 2006-07 and the 2005 World Cup where we reached the final. There are so many memories that it’s difficult to choose a few right now. Obviously, the 2017 World Cup was also very special.
If you ask me about my individual achievements, I would say I cherish my performance in the 2005 World Cup. My maiden Test 10-wicket haul during the England tour in 2006-07 was equally memorable.
Q: What you and Mithali Raj have done for Indian women’s cricket is unparalleled. How do you view this legacy, and how has it changed women’s cricket in India over the past two decades?
Goswami: To be honest, I’ve never looked at my career like that. We’ve played our cricket with total conviction and sincerity, and that’s what matters the most. I always put my team before myself and I’m sure Mithali thinks the same way, too.
That said, it does feel good when you see so many young girls willing to take up cricket as a profession now. That was not the case when we started playing.
Q: You dismissed Mithali Raj on a duck in the very first game you played against her. Goswami: Ha ha (laughs)! It was a long time back. Mithali was already an international cricketer at the time, whereas I had just made my foray into senior domestic cricket. In fact, she was my first victim in senior domestic cricket. That wicket gave me a lot of confidence moving forward because Mithali had just returned from England after making her international debut, and we had been hearing a lot about her.
As far as I can remember, it happened in an Inter-Zonal match in Rae Bareli. Over the past two decades, I’ve learnt a lot from Mithali’s dedication and discipline.
Q: The Indian team is scheduled to play a five-match ODI series in New Zealand before the commencement of the Women’s World Cup. How much do you think the series will help the team get accustomed to the conditions?
Goswami: Oh, it will help us a lot! Playing in New Zealand is always difficult because of the windy conditions, more so for the pacers as we have to bowl against the wind. New Zealand are a very strong team and have many experienced players.
Playing five matches against New Zealand in New Zealand will be the perfect preparation for the World Cup. Credit must be given to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for scheduling the tour this way. I think we’ll leave India in the last week of January.
Q: We all know how badly you want to win the World Cup. You previously indicated that you would hang up your boots after this World Cup. What are your feelings at this stage?
Goswami: I’m not thinking about all these things right now. I only want to focus on the World Cup and perform well in the tournament.
Q: You’ve participated in four World Cups and five T20 World Cups so far. Do you still feel nervous before heading into an ICC World event?
Goswami: Yes, absolutely! Even today, I feel nervous before playing a domestic match. The World Cup always makes you nervous because you compete against the world’s best teams over there.
Q: There has been a lot of debate regarding the exclusions of Jemimah Rodrigues, Shikha Pandey and Punam Raut from the World Cup squad. How much do you think their absence will affect India’s chances in the tournament?
Goswami: See, the decision was taken by the national selection panel, so I cannot comment on that.
Q: Fair enough. Do you think the upcoming edition of the Women’s World Cup is going to be the most competitive ever?
Goswami: I think so. Australia and England will always be the favorites in any Women’s World event, but teams like India, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies have improved drastically over the past decade. You cannot write off Pakistan or Sri Lanka either. Any team can win the World Cup this time around.
Q: India came agonizingly close to winning the Women’s World Cup in 2017. That campaign completely changed the perception of women’s cricket in the country. As a senior cricketer, what sort of infrastructure upgrades have you seen in Indian women’s cricket over the past four-and-a-half years?
Goswami: The infrastructure has definitely become better. The BCCI has been doing a lot to promote women’s cricket in India. Finding grounds has become a lot easier and we train under quality coaches, right from the domestic level to the international level.
Moreover, the girls have become more serious about their fitness and there are specialists who monitor this aspect. The Cricket Association of Bengal (C.A.B.) started a separate practice facility for female cricketers last year. It was a much-needed initiative. There will always be scope for improvement, but I’m happy with the way women’s cricket is progressing in India.
Q: Your Bengal teammate Richa Ghosh has cemented her place in the Indian senior team. How do you view her progress, and how much does your presence help her on foreign tours?
Goswami: Richa is a very sincere girl and I’ve been mentoring her for a long time. My presence does help her a bit because we belong to the same state. Her international exposure has made her more mature. She’s a very talented girl. At this level, what’s important is to maintain your focus and be consistent. She must work harder and score more runs to realize her true potential.
Q: The COVID-19 situation in West Bengal is quite bad at the moment. How much has it hampered your preparation for the New Zealand tour and the World Cup?
Goswami: Yes, it has been very difficult. It’s not easy to train at home. I go to a local ground every morning and practice over there with someone’s help. If nobody comes, I practice alone. We don't have any other options. I pray for everyone’s safety.
Q: As a fast bowling legend, what advice would you give budding female pacers who want to increase their pace?
Goswami: You just need to focus on the basics. There’s no substitute to running as far as developing pace is concerned. Over the years, I’ve realized that hard work and discipline are more important than skills. If you dedicate yourself to the game and practice sincerely, the results will automatically come. It’s also important to eat right. By that I mean nutritional awareness and abstaining from all kinds of unhealthy food.
Q: The Women’s IPL has been in the pipeline for a long time now. If India win the upcoming Women’s World Cup, do you think the BCCI will be forced to launch the tournament this year?
Goswami: It (the Women’s IPL) should’ve started a long time ago. It has got nothing to do with our performance in the World Cup. See how the Women’s Big Bash League and the Women’s T20 Super League have promoted new talent and strengthened the dominance of Australia and England in women’s international cricket. A Women’s IPL can achieve similar results for India. I think the time is ripe.
Q: The recently released teaser of your biopic, "Chakda Xpress", has created quite a buzz. When will the film be released? Also, what’s the latest update on your autobiography?
Goswami: The filming of Chakda Xpress will begin soon, the producers will tell you everything when the time comes. I’ll resume work on my autobiography post the World Cup.
Q. Do you think the BCCI should launch the Women's IPL this year?