Kolkata: The ongoing ICC Women’s World Cup has seen the Indian team having an up-and-down campaign so far but if there is one member of the squad whom the cricket fraternity is raving about, it’s Jhulan Goswami. The tall and ever-smiling Indian pacewoman has reached two landmarks in New Zealand in what’s her fifth World Cup appearance - becoming the first women’s cricketer to reach 250 wickets in ODIs and also becoming the highest wicket-taker in the history of the tournament.
Ellyse Perry, the charismatic captain of the invincible Australians whom India run into next on Saturday, had been lavish in her praise about the ‘‘tremendous level of respect’’ that they have for Jhulan and her contribution to women’s cricket globally. The media manager of England women’s team went a step further - saying she had done enough to deserve a statue installed in one of the cricketing venues.
The remarkable longevity that Jhulan, now 39, has shown for a pace bowler has seen breaking the records but more importantly - she had already been a barrier-breaker of sorts for her sport. Talk of Jhulan, it’s impossible to keep Mithali Raj - her teammate for nearly two decades - out and no words of praise can be enough for these two iconic figures for the Women in Blue.
In the book The Fire Turns Blue, an extremely well-researched work on the history of women’s cricket in India, journalists Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik have addressed the duo as ‘MilJhul’ (meaning together in Hindi) and summed up their journey objectively. ‘‘Aptly, ‘miljhul’ means together; nobody else’s fate in Indian women’s cricket has been as intertwined as that of the duo. When the game needed somebody to be the best, to drag Indian cricket from the amateur, lackadaisical era of the ‘90s into the professional period of the 2000s, it was lucky to get Miljhul, two of the most thorough professionals,’’ they wrote.
It’s an irony of sorts that both these enduring performers have been recently in the news more for the biopics in the pipeline rather than their cricketing exploits. However, it’s also an acknowledgement of the fact that the stories of their struggle in breaking the gender stereotypes and their achievement on the world stage has the makings of an absorbing reel-life story.
The stories of their early days, of course, are like chalk-and-cheese. If Mithali was brought up by an ex-serviceman father in the urban environment of Hyderabad, Jhulan was born in the sleepy suburban town of Chakdah in North 24 Parganas of West Bengal (this surely explains the working title of the film on her: ‘Chakdah Express’). In the early ‘90s, taking up cricket as a sport needed some courage of conviction but then Jhulan found her calling when she was picked as a ball girl in the 1997 Women’s World Cup final at the Eden Gardens.
Watching the Australian Catheryn Fitzpatick, one of the alltime Australian pace bowling greats, in that final gave her a sense of purpose and soon enough - her tryst with tennis ball cricket began at a local club. Call it a sense of destiny or what you will, Jhulan has long overtaken Fitzpatrick (180 wickets) in her tally of wickets but had shown no signs of stopping.
Like all goods have to come to an end, Jhulan and Mithali are playing their last 50-over World Cups. It will be a fitting testimony if Team India can win the cup which they so narrowly missed in 2017 - but then sport doesn’t always guarantee fairytale endings!