Lean, mean, fast-bowling machine

A fast bowler's job may be more glamorous than others in cricket, but it comes with its share of aches and pains. In the women's game there are few takers for the role, which is why Jhulan Goswami being named Women's Cricketer of the Year is cause for celebration - especially for the fast bowling sorority.

The 23-year-old Goswami was a surprise choice for the award. Not because she hadn't done enough to deserve it but because her fellow nominee, Australian allrounder Lisa Sthalekar, was a clear favourite with an ODI batting average of 67.30 for the eligibility period, much higher than her overall career average of 36.22. Sthalekar won Australia's Women's International Cricketer of the Year at the Allan Border awards in February and then went on to become the Player of the Tournament at the Quadrangular series in Chennai the same month for her 394 runs at the Bradmanesque average of 98.50, with four half-centuries.

Goswami's role in India's maiden Test victory in England in August last year possibly tilted the scales in her favour. She took 10 for 78 - five in each innings - as India took the second Test by five wickets and the series 1-0. Overall Goswami took 15 wickets at 12.40. In the 16 ODIs played during the eligibility period she took 20 wickets, 11 of them in the seven Quadrangular matches.

Following Cathryn Fitzpatrick's retirement this year, Goswami is the fastest bowler in the women's game, and a source of inspiration for newcomers like Ellyse Perry, the 16-year-old allrounder Australia expect to fill Fitzpatrick's shoes.

What first strikes you about Goswami is her height, 5'11" - unusual in an Indian woman. When in a huddle, celebrating a wicket, she stands head and shoulders above her team-mates. Goswami, though, does not have the bulk to power her bowling, like some of New Zealand's players, or England's Jenny Gunn. In fact, like Fitzpatrick, she is lean.

And like Fitzpatrick, what makes her effective is her ability to bowl an accurate line and length over an entire innings. Anjum Chopra, her India team-mate and captain of Air India when Goswami made her domestic debut for the side in 2000, thinks Goswami's consistency is the key to her success.

"She no doubt gets bounce because of her height, but that is a variable factor, depending on the pitch and other conditions," Chopra told Cricinfo. "What Jhulan has is accuracy and an ability to consistently get the ball in the right areas. Apart from that, she is a quick learner and adapts well to different conditions."

At the Quadrangular, Goswami opened the bowling with the frighteningly economical Rumeli Dhar, and while Dhar choked up the runs, Goswami went for kill. India were defending a low total against New Zealand and she gave them the breakthrough by removing the top three batsmen for 30 inside the first ten overs, finishing with an opening spell that read 7-2-18-3. New Zealand went on to win the match, but their batsmen knew they had just about managed to crawl out of the hole Goswami had begun to dig for them.

Speed is a certainly a big factor in her bowling, but the movement off the pitch which she manages with disconcerting consistency adds considerably to her wicket-taking ability. Suzie Bates was frozen at the crease as the ball zipped into her pads; Rebecca Rolls let go one which pitched outside off stump and cut in sharply to knock off the bail; Haidee Tiffen was caught behind edging a delivery that moved away slightly.

Like the metronomic Glenn McGrath, her self-declared role model, Goswami isn't too likely to veer off line, and a bright future awaits. A milestone she will achieve soon enough is 100 wickets - she has 96 - in ODIs. That will make her the second Indian after Neetu David to reach that particular landmark - provided she gets there before team-mate Nooshin Al Khadeer, the offbreak bowler, who is also in the race with 96.

Glamorous or not, women's cricket needs its role models. Goswami has just cemented her position as one. Here's hoping her success inspires more girls to try out fast bowling.