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Tribute

Farewell Jhulan Goswami, the link between two ages of Indian women's cricket

From the time the team were in it only for the love of the game, to now, when they are a respected, formidable outfit, she has been an inspiring, enduring presence

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
23-Sep-2022
Jhulan Goswami leads the India team to a World Cup welcome ceremony, Sydney, March 5, 2009

Goswami leads the team beside Sydney Harbour Bridge to a welcome ceremony for the 2009 World Cup  •  Matt King/Getty Images

Retiring on the field is a privilege accorded to few in Indian cricket. So it is heartwarming that Jhulan Goswami will bid adieu to what will no doubt be rousing applause from fans and colleagues at Lord's tomorrow, bringing to a close a career that began all those years ago in nondescript Chakdaha in Bengal.
A farewell game of this magnitude is unlike any other in recent memory in Indian cricket. Several stars faded away quietly in recent years - Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, even Goswami's good friend Mithali Raj. And when an injured Goswami sat motionless as India were knocked out of the 2022 World Cup in the last over of their group-stage game against South Africa in Christchurch, you wondered if another legendary career would meet a similar end. Thankfully, Goswami will get an exit of the kind she deserves, even if it may not be as celebrated as Sachin Tendulkar's was.
On Saturday, when she takes the field for one final time in India colours, she will complete a circle of sorts. Five years ago it was at Lord's that she came within touching distance of cricket's ultimate glory, against England in the 2017 World Cup final. While that dream was not realised, she can now proudly leave with a series win in England, India's first in the country in 23 years.
To the current generation, Goswami is the last link between two eras of Indian women's cricket. For long she has been synonymous with the game in India, alongside the likes of Raj, Diana Edulji and Shantha Rangaswamy, among others. Until her farewell series, Goswami hadn't played a single ODI for which Raj wasn't in the XI.
Goswami and Shikha Pandey were the flag bearers of India's bowling for over half a decade, but apart from them, the fast-bowling cupboard was thinly stocked until recently, when new talent began to come through. While it may yet take a while before India can find someone to fly the flag for the next two decades, the signs are promising.
Long before she became Jhulu di to her younger team-mates, Goswami was a kid with stars in her eyes, mesmerised at the sight of Cathryn Fitzpatrick in the 1997 World Cup final at Eden Gardens, where Goswami was a ball girl. On Saturday, when she bowls alongside Renuka Thakur and Meghna Singh at Lord's, it will be a symbolic passing of the baton: Thakur was once a starstruck academy kid and ball girl in Dharamsala when Goswami played for India at the 2016 T20 World Cup, and Meghna once waited in the lobby of a Kanpur hotel all day so she could make a beeline for Goswami when she arrived, just to be able to get a ball autographed.
Goswami's retirement, coming on the heels of Raj's will truly mark the end of an era in Indian women's cricket. A period of two decades or so in which they went from being a middling team that played for the love of cricket to one that commands respect and a standing, one that is followed with nearly as much passion as their men's counterparts, and one that stands poised for a revolution next year, with the possibilities the women's IPL will bring.
Goswami's career was marked by deep commitment, an abiding quest for perfection, and a willingness to fight the odds - she prevailed over injuries to back, heel, shoulder, ankle and knees. Her rise and the way she made a place for herself at the very top of the women's game is also a celebration of the potential that lies in India's small towns and villages.
A common refrain when you talk about Goswami the cricketer is about how simple she is in life and in cricket. She has been old-school but modern. Old-school because she believed bowling fitness was greater than gym fitness, and modern because as she aged, she embraced the need to keep up with the demands of cross-format cricket, even if it meant stepping into the unknown.
As a bowler, in how she was seemingly programmed to bowl to hit the top of off, she embodied the virtues of a clutter-free mind. She had a potent weapon in a devious inswinger early in her career, and to that she added one that hits the seam and holds its line. This latter talent was best showcased in the delivery that bowled Meg Lanning at the 2017 World Cup semi-final.
Documented evidence of it is rare in domestic cricket, but several players will tell you how Goswami also had one of the meanest bouncers. And if they misfielded off her bowling, players would fear to look her in the eye for hours. But once off the field, she'd dance and sing with the same players, and if India won, she would treat them to ice cream and dessert.
Goswami's genial ways were as much a hallmark of her career as her bowling. She would not shy away from mingling with the youngest members of the group, making them feel warm and welcome. In defeat, she would play agony aunt, providing comfort. "Chin up, girls, we haven't lost a war" was her famous quip, brought out at times when the dressing room was low after a loss. She believed that if you make sacrifices to make it to the highest level, you need to celebrate everything the game, and life, throws at you.
At other times, like in that 2017 semi-final, she would be the immovable force, willing and able to look batters in the eye, to command her fielders to raise the volume and display on-field brilliance to show them "we are no less". Symbolic, then, that she led by example in knocking Lanning over the way she did.
On Saturday when the final run is hit or the last wicket taken, it's likely there will be a few tears in the Indian dressing room and outside it. After all, Goswami has been a towering presence for over two decades, playing several roles: captain, older sibling, friend, mentor, philosopher, and more.
As Rohit Sharma said recently, players like Goswami come along once in a generation. Those tasked with carrying forward her legacy couldn't have asked for a better role model. India will miss a workhorse, but may yet benefit in gaining a mentor and teacher who could inspire in others the very virtues that made her a world beater.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo