How Rumeli Dhar 'exploded' back into national reckoning

Self-belief and a productive maiden stint with Delhi this domestic season have paved the way for the 34-year-old allrounder to return to the India women squad after nearly six years

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Rumeli Dhar looks on from the dugout, Delhi v Maharashtra, Senior Women's T20 League 2018, Mumbai, January 25, 2018

Annesha Ghosh

Rumeli Dhar is marking her run-up for her second spell.
Her opening spell of gentle medium-pace has been anything but gentle. Nine of her 12 deliveries so far haven't been scored off. The two batsmen she dismissed couldn't score any either. Her 2 for 3 has left Maharashtra five down inside eight overs, and the national selectors buzzing.
Rumeli is running in to begin her second spell. She has two more overs left at the Sachin Tendulkar Gymakhana, on the eve of Republic Day.
About this time two days ago, the striker, Anuja Patil, had been named in India's T20 squad for the South Africa tour. She had not played an international in 14 months; Rumeli had last represented India in 2012.
Anuja is one run better off than the two batsmen who have fallen to Rumeli. She has warded off a similar fate by not offering a shot for the first two outswingers outside off. The third, on off stump, draws a front-foot defence. There seems little that Anuja is doing wrong, except her bat comes down late on this incoming ball.
Rumeli has begun her second spell.
She flattens Anuja's middle stump and has Jaya Sharma, the Delhi selector, on her feet. As the Delhi fielders sprint towards Rumeli, throwing high-fives in the air, Jaya, a team-mate of Rumeli in 43 of her 97 international appearances, hollers.
"Kya kamaal karti jaa rahi hain, Rumi!" (what wonders you're achieving, Rumi)
Maharashtra are six down for 23, and Rumeli is sauntering towards the long-on boundary. Even before she puts her cap on, she's greeted with banter from one of the national selectors: "Good Lord, this girl is going to cause us some headache soon!"
Rumeli fires a reply:"Not if you believe I've got what it takes to make it back."


You may be tempted to ask Rumeli what happens to a destiny unfulfilled.
She'll probably acknowledge your acknowledgement first. After all, not many may have heard of Rumeli, let alone remember her as someone considered - by team-mates, contemporaries and opponents alike - as one of India's best allrounders. Once the surprise at your unexpected recognition of her has been dealt with, Rumeli may consider venturing into an answer.
For a 34-year-old India women cricketer dwelling far from media interest or public knowledge for the past six years, the response may not come across as wholly appropriate. However, it won't be totally out of sync with what Rumeli has done in the domestic circuit this season: explode, onto the pads of Smriti Mandhana, through the prolific scoring of Jemimah Rodrigues, across the near two-season unbeaten T20 streak of Mithali Raj's domestic side, Railways, and into the national squad after a near-six-year hiatus.
"I believe I still have a lot left in me to give to cricket, to my country," Rumeli told ESPNcricinfo of her aspirations of a national comeback following the T20 against Maharashtra last month. "The kind of person I am, I don't think I'm giving up until I play and perform for India again. I don't know if it'll happen here [in India, during the upcoming home season] or elsewhere, but I will keep at it."
Rumeli flying to South Africa, with a couple of days' notice from the BCCI, as a replacement for the injured Jhulan Goswami, has a ring of incredulity about it. The last time Rumeli played a T20I, she accomplished the rare feat of opening both the batting and the bowling for India, the latter with Goswami, also a former Air India and Bengal team-mate. Rumeli and Goswami are the only two India captains from the state.


A resident of Delhi for the past 15 years, Rumeli, employed with the Northern Railways since 2003, hasn't staggered her way back to the consciousness of the selectors. Nor has she taken giant leaps towards it. As her father Anup emphasises, Rumeli has tiptoed her way back into reckoning with self-belief and consistency in domestic cricket.
"In the past six years, I've never seen her wallow in self-pity," Anup says. "Never. She's not that type. In fact, you won't find many a girl as determined as Rumeli. Uff, boddo jedi (Gosh, she's one heck of an obstinate girl). Even when she has had minor [shoulder and knee] injuries along the way, she worked diligently with her physio and overcame all of that. I think it is her stubbornness that's kept her going all these years. Oh, and the love of the game, too."
Anup narrates how Rumeli had cultivated the habit of giving away her equipment to talented young boys and girls around Delhi's Kishanganj area, where the Dhars live, and those across other cities. "Recently, when she was away [travelling for inter-state tournaments], she rang up and ordered me to courier a few bats to some underprivileged girls in Odisha she believes has the potential to play higher-level cricket.
"Ekhoni courier kore ditey hobe (You've got to get it couriered right away), she would mandate over the phone. And then, some other day, it would be some boy in Barrackpore [in Kolkata] or someone in Paharganj [in Delhi], or Jaipur. Stubbornness and passion for cricket, and cricket alone. That is all of Rumeli you'll ever know."
Rumeli's mother Gauri emphasises the importance of her daughter's decision to play for Delhi for the first time this season, having previously spent the past four years - two each - with Rajasthan and Assam. While Anup had shifted base to Delhi in 2009, the mother and daughter have been constant companions to each other since they moved home in 2003.
"Call it God's grace or Rumeli's destiny… She's lived here almost half her life, and that her performance, Delhi's [title] win and her recall has coincided with one another is something we, as parents, can only be grateful for," Gauri says.
In her maiden stint with Delhi, Rumeli scored 335 runs, took 16 wickets and eight catches across the two limited-overs senior domestic tournaments this season. It was particularly during Delhi's maiden T20-title-winning campaign that her all-round contributions shone through. The pick of them was her 4 for 14 against Maharashtra, which included 15 dots.


For all the conservativeness the India women's selection committee is known for, Rumeli's recall, ironically, comes at a time when it has shown clear intent towards blooding youngsters. The four debuts handed in the T20I series-opener against South Africa aside, there is one precedent that could have served as a template of sorts for the selectors to back Rumeli.
Remember how Punam Raut was excluded from the team for the limited-overs series against West Indies and the Women's World Cup Qualifier even as India tried out several youngsters in the top order during the Qualifiers? Remember how Raut thrust her way back into contention, only three months before the World Cup, and ended up finding herself in the heady heights of the World Cup final? If the worth of the Raut punt is anything to go by, Rumeli's recall is an even bolder, even more open-minded move to back an old hand.
Even beyond that, as Anju Jain, Rumeli's former India team-mate and Assam coach, believes, the allrounder's return "could be seen as a glimmer of hope", a validation for the uncapped players and internationals waiting in the wings.
"You have to attribute it to her perseverance and will power," Anju, who was among the first to to receive a call from Rumeli about her recall, says. "When Rumi decided to play for Assam, I remember asking her, 'Tu khelna chahti hain na idhar?" (Are you sure you want to play here?) She said yes, but an even firmer reply followed: 'You know what my ultimate goal is, right? Play for India again, play another World Cup."
The question of whether Rumeli's second coming materialises in South Africa - where she last played in 2005, when India made it to a World Cup final for the first time - or during the forthcoming home series against Australia - the opposition she faced when she last played for India - or England - against whom she struck the highest score by an India debutant in a T20I to give the side its first ever win in the format - will soon have its answer. But no matter what the opposition is, the buzz around Rumeli is unlikely to fizzle out soon.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo