Going into the South Africa tour, Jhulan Goswami was only five wickets away from 200 ODI scalps in women's cricket. But a wrist injury sustained a day before the start of the senior women's domestic season, on December 6 last year, briefly cast a doubt over the feat. After bagging 4 for 24 in the first ODI in Kimberley though, Goswami accomplished a task her personal coach and mentor had set her when she last visited him in Kolkata prior to the tour.
"The one last thing I want of you is your name to be the first and the only one for a while on the list of women's players to have taken 200 wickets," Swapan Sadhu, who has been coaching Goswami since she first took up formal training as a teenager, recalls telling the seamer as he speaks to ESPNcricinfo from Kolkata. "That's one request - if you can call it so - I had made to Jhulan before she left. And I told she should get this done in South Africa. Hereafter, I will not have much left to ask of her."
The injury, Mithu Mukherjee, the women's chairman of selectors of the Cricket Association of Bengal, said, had left Goswami "very worried". Although it was the left wrist that had borne the impact after she slipped on the stairs, the injury had sidelined her from a large part of the domestic season, forcing Tanusree Sarkar to fill in as Bengal's stand-in captain for the major part of the inter-state one-day tournament, barring the semi-final and final. In the subsequent Challenger Trophy, the three-team, domestic 50-over tournament that took place in the build-up to the international series, Goswami had bowled only 12 overs in two matches.
Sadhu, however, insisted there was a "sense of inevitability" about Goswami getting to the milestone on this tour as she had been working "doubly hard" on her fitness in its lead-up. "The diligence she's put in to preserving herself at 34-35 years is unparalleled," he said. "She's massively cut down on food, takes care of her body like a temple, considering the injuries she's had in the past one year [including a shoulder strain in February last year, which ruled her out of the World Cup Qualifiers subsequently]. And the fitness, with that tall frame, she's works at it like a student early into their career.
"But you could sense the quiet confidence in her voice when she told me, 'Yes, it's likely to happen in South Africa'. And when I learnt of it [the record], the first thing that flashed before my eyes was her high-arm action when she first came to me in 1996-97. Uff, ekhono pagol kore dei bhabley [Gosh, it drives me crazy when I come to think of it even to this day.] After all these years, you see her action, it's as effective and as good, even though she may have lost a bit of pace. That's because it's Jhulan - diligent and putting in the hard yards as ever."
A few airwaves interior to Kolkata, Goswami's youngest brother, Kunal, had been following the match on his smartphone. While the pride in the immensity of the elder sister's achievement was unmistakable in his voice, the lack of a broadcast or livestream, he said, somewhat "tarnished" the joys of the feat.
"Despite India's World Cup campaign, it's disappointing we couldn't see her get to the record live on TV or the internet [via live-stream]. I had to switch between checking scores on my phone and pestering my colleagues at work [for updates]. It's as big an achievement for didi [elder sister] as it is for the family, and I think for women's cricket in general. The first to 200 wickets - it was imminent, kintu shopner moto lagche tao [but still feels it's a dream]."