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'I believe we've been able to bring about a revolution'

Jhulan Goswami talks about the expectations from the team after the World Cup, her best spells, and the time she felt like quitting the game

What has the reception been like in Chakdaha, your home town, and Kolkata, where you currently live, after the World Cup?
I'm yet to visit Chakdaha, but yesterday they were showing the India-Pakistan match in a restaurant [in Kolkata] and people were watching the highlights keenly - ball by ball. It's not a common sight, is it? It was nice to see that because the match happened a long time back.
Given the recognition the team has received, do you reckon there will be more pressure and scrutiny than ever to contend with the next time India women take the field?
Yes, certainly. Whenever matches are on television, people get to know who you are. There's going to be a lot of expectation: self-expectation, expectation from family, friends, and the media.
There will be some good things about the increased attention and some difficult stuff as well. People will talk about things when we'll fail. How we handle this will be the most important concern. The senior players, the coaches and the support staff will play a big role to figure a way out. Sometimes criticism helps you perform better in the next match. We should not focus on things beyond our control. We should instead be able to focus on our process, control our emotions and go ahead.
Following a four-match winning streak in the World Cup, India lost two games in a row and were facing a knockout encounter against New Zealand. What was the atmosphere in the dressing room like ahead of that game?
Among other factors, I think what Tushar [Arothe, the coach] told us in a team meeting egged us on to perform the way we did against New Zealand. He said, unless you believe in yourself, you can't win. "Isse accha hai hum log yahin se ghar chalein jayein kyunki tourist banke aane ka koi faaydaa nahi hai [It might be better if we just go home because staying on as tourists is of no use]. If you want to play, you have to perform. Lagega, dard hoga. Ghar jaake hum usko repair karenge [It will hurt, there will be pain. We'll repair it when we get home]. But on the field, you have to perform." Those words instilled a lot of belief in us. Not only did we defeat New Zealand, we beat Australia and then almost pulled off what not many would have expected us to.
Are there any specific changes since the 2013 World Cup that may have contributed to India's run in this year's tournament?
The 2013 World Cup was heartbreaking. In the World T20 last year, we lost the matches we should have won. After the early exit, the team had gone into a bit of a depression. To be playing a World Cup at home and not being able to make a mark was the most underwhelming experience. Unless you do well on a platform like the World Cup or the Olympics, your event - whether an individual discipline or a team sport - will struggle to get recognition or march forward. For the younger generation to take up sport in this country, they need to have role models they can follow. That's one thing we were consistently struggling to do over the past World Cups.
Luckily, over the last one and a half years, the BCCI played a big role in addressing several concerns contributing to our inconsistency. Ahead of this World Cup, we played a substantial number of matches. The ICC Women's Championship ensured we played the best teams in several bilateral series. That helped us build the team and ensure the core of the team remained roughly the same. Most of the girls who played this World Cup have been together for the past 18 months or so. We were mindful of making sure that whoever makes the squad has at least experience worth 15 to 20 matches.
You can trace the start of our journey to the Australia tour in early 2016. We won the T20 series there for the first time, and although we couldn't wrap up the ODI series, we did defeat them in one match/a>. Then we won the West Indies home series 3-0, the Asia Cup that followed, the Qualifiers - Harmanpreet [Kaur] won us the nail-biting final - and then the Quadrangular. Whenever we tasted victory, we took pride in that and even our losses taught us a great deal. This new-found ability to accept failure and then setting our mind to stage a comeback helped us in this World Cup.
Quantifiable results aside, to what extent do you believe you have been able to accomplish what you set out to achieve in the World Cup?
I think our campaign will go a long way in changing the ground realities of women's cricket in India. Am I being falsely hopeful? I don't think so. This is the first World Cup in which people watched us play. Apart from broadcasting of the matches, social media played a huge role. Electronic and print media complemented it perfectly. The way the ICC conceived of and promoted the tournament - all these factors have made this World Cup a success on so many levels. The revolution India needed to give women's cricket an identity of its own, I would like to believe we have been able to bring that about.
What did senior players like you and Mithali Raj want the team dynamic to be like?
We spent the majority of the past two years discussing how we can raise the profile of women's cricket in India and create an individual identity for the sport. We would talk about how to create a good team, whom we can rely on more going forward. We knew how badly we wanted to do well in the World Cup, else it would be another wasted opportunity for women's cricket in India.
With 13 wickets from eight innings, including two four-fors, you were the third-highest wicket-taker in the 2005 World Cup. What targets did you set your 22-year-old self after making that final?
Many people would tell me, "It's easy [to perform in anonymity]. No one knows you well. That's why you've been successful in the World Cup." I was young back then and comments like that made me uncomfortable. I realised if I didn't bowl well for the next few years, I might not play the next World Cup. After the World Cup, there was a break for the next seven to eight months and then we played again in November-December. It was important for me to prove that I wasn't finished. The home series against England in that period turned out to be fantastic for me, starting from the Test we played in Delhi. I took five wickets in the first innings and scored runs in the second. I was named the Woman of the Match, but unfortunately the Test was drawn.
"Most of the girls who played this World Cup have been together for the past 18 months or so. We were mindful of making sure that whoever makes the squad has at least experience worth 15 to 20 matches"
What do you think of the domestic structure at the state and zonal levels?
We have a few official tournaments organised by the BCCI - one-dayers, T20s and inter-zonals, which have three-day matches. It's a good thing on the part of the board to persist with three-day games. We have Under-23, U-19 and will probably have U-16 in some time too. So the domestic structure is good, but I'd suggest increasing the number of matches. For some states, if they qualify, they get to play a lot of matches. If they don't, then in a year a senior player gets to play only four matches. If they don't perform in those four-five games, they won't get selected in the zonal team and the year goes to waste.
India went into the World Cup with three quick bowlers. While spin has always been the side's strength, the lack of a genuine fourth fast-bowling option can't be overlooked. Are there enough medium-pace resources in the national ranks?
Shikha [Pandey] has been doing well for the last couple of years. She has improved her skills and bowled well in the World Cup. Mansi [Joshi] too is a quality bowler. Whenever she'll get the chance, she'll do well. Sukanya Parida is also very promising. Then there's Pooja Vastrakar, who unfortunately got injured this season. Since she bats well too, she can be a good allrounder.
Ahead of the Australia tour in 2008, you replaced Mithali Raj as the captain, and were replaced by Anjum Chopra in 2012. How would you describe your captaincy stint?
It wasn't a burden, but it was a big challenge for me because they handed me the captaincy just before the World Cup. It was a transition period with many newcomers making their way into the side. I had to handle them in a way that would get the best performance out of them without putting them under pressure. It was a big task for me, but just when I started enjoying myself more and performing better as a captain, I was removed after that series. I don't know why. That was a bit disappointing because I wanted to remain the captain for some more time.
I really enjoyed those two years. The team was very young: Harman, Punam Raut, Thirush Kamini, Gauhar Sultana, Veda [Krishnamurthy] - they all debuted around that period. Ekta Bisht debuted in the [2011] Quadrangular series. About 30-34 girls debuted for India during that period. Every series had two to three debutants. At a certain point I was like, "What's going on?" The selectors would consult me [regarding the changes] at times and sometimes they wouldn't.
That transition period was crucial for all of us. I took that period as the most challenging and exciting period of my life. I wanted to set an example for them and make sure I wasn't harsh. When they dropped me from captaincy, I didn't feel any regret, but as a human being you feel bad. If they don't like my way of captaincy, they have the right to remove me. It wasn't a big issue.
What do you make of Raj's evolution as captain since she took over from Chopra in 2012 to leading the team to the final in this World Cup?
When Mithali came back as captain, I was happy. She had a team that had already played a couple of series and had an idea [about playing at the international level]. She was there, so I didn't have to bother about that. Mithali the captain is very cool. I never saw her expressing her emotions on the field. She knows what she has to do and she is very clear about that. Secondly, when the team is good, the captain also looks good. She's done a fantastic job for the country and this team is top-class.
Has there been any point in your career when you contemplated retirement?
Yes, after the World T20 in 2014. Before the tournament, I was bowling really well, but in Bangladesh I couldn't bowl well. I was not able to give breakthroughs. After coming home, I had almost decided to retire. But some of my close friends told me, "No, it's not the end. You can still make a comeback and play. It's just one bad series." Then I went back to the NCA, worked with Balwinder Singh Sandhu for a few days, and fortunately, during that time we played the bicentenary match of Lord's. Mithali and I were selected for the Rest of the World XI v MCC. I got to speak to a few friends over there who told me, "How can you say you're going to quit? You're still the best. No one can touch you." A few of them even said, "I can see you playing in the 2017 World Cup. You're bowling in the final at Lord's."
I realised if these people can have so much confidence in me, it means I have to work on a few things, especially in the mental aspect [of the game.] So I prepared in such a way that I could be fresh and enjoy my bowling. I believe when you enjoy your craft, the best things happen automatically. And things went exactly that way: in the following tour, to England, we won the Test match; I had a contribution there. [In the second ODI] in Scarborough, we lost the match by eight or nine runs [13 runs], but it was probably one of my best spells. I remember Heather Knight praising me for that spell. "That was Gozzy's best spell I've ever faced."
You went through a lean patch, compounded by injury, ahead of becoming the leading wicket-taker in ODIs. Was the build-up to picking up the 181st wicket filled with pressure?
Initially I was really keen to get that wicket. But after a certain point, I realised I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself. I told myself, "Let's not count, let's not think about it. If that highest wicket-taker thing is in my destiny, it will happen. Let's instead concentrate match by match, ball by ball and tour by tour, enjoy the series, the atmosphere and the cricket." And after some time, I stopped counting.
In the home series against West Indies, my performance wasn't extraordinary. I pulled out of the Qualifier because of the injury. I knew I was going to play only one series before the World Cup - the Quadrangular. Though a lot of self-doubt had crept in by then, during the series all I was concerned about was the rhomboid muscle injury I was recovering from. I was doing extra treatment before and after every game because I didn't want it to bother me much. Once I got that wicket, I was like, "Chalo yaar, ho gaya [It's done]. I will be free now."
How does it feel like to be the leading wicket-taker?
It feels good. It's important you enjoy those moments. There was hardly any time for me to enjoy that feat because immediately afterwards we were headed for the World Cup. A lot of things were going on in my mind. "Maybe I should celebrate after the World Cup," I would tell myself. I didn't want the milestone to get in my head because the World Cup was going to be more important than everything else.
"To get that wicket of Lanning, my aim was to not give her any room, because she's very strong square of the wicket. I knew that even the slightest movement off the pitch can help me fetch an lbw or get her bowled"
How vividly do you remember the first five-wicket haul of your career?
Oh yes, I do. It was after the 2005 World Cup. We were playing in Silchar, Assam, against England. We won the toss, elected to bowl. I remember pretty much everything about that five-wicket haul: my preparation, my body, how the atmosphere was like in the morning of the match.
The match was a decider in a way. I would count it among my best spells. England had Claire Taylor, Charlotte Edwards, Jenny Gunn, Lydia Greenway, Arran Thompson [now Brindle]. After that [spell] I believed in myself.
Do you regret the dearth of Tests in women's cricket?
For a cricketer, I think Test cricket is the ultimate challenge. It's a test of your skills, endurance, stamina, everything. I've really enjoyed Tests matches. I am not sure whether or not that's going to change in the near future.
In 2006, we played two Tests against England. The first one in Leicester, where we dominated for three and a half days, but in the last two hours they dominated, and at the end of the session, we were trying to save the match. It was one action-packed game. The second Test in Taunton was one of my best spells in Tests. I took ten wickets and India won a Test match in England for the first time.
The Test in 2014 in Wormsley, when we toured England again, was also special. We were playing a Test after eight years, and were, perhaps, a wee bit nervous. Other than Mithali, Karuna [Jain] and I, most of the girls were debutants - eight of them in total. The wicket was a green top and, for a medium pacer, you couldn't have asked for anything better than that. I had a lot of fun in that match.
You've often spoken highly of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad. How much of an influence have they been on you?
I used to like him [Srinath] because when I was growing up, he was the leading bowler in the Indian side. With Venky bhai, I have spent quite a bit of time at the NCA during my rehab. He would be doing U-19, U-23 training camps. He's a positive person and is always there to help you out.
Who is the toughest batsman you've ever bowled to?
Rebecca Rolls from New Zealand was difficult to bowl to because she would pull and cut anything marginally short. And if you'd bowl up, she would hit back over the bowler's head. She was a tall and strong girl and could generate a lot of power. Apart from Rolls, I would say, to some extent, if I was bowling in the later part [of the innings], in the Powerplay, it would be Karen Rolton. Whenever I used to bowl in the second spell, she would pick the length so early that even before I delivered the ball, she would set herself up in position to hit the ball on either side of the pitch. Besides, she used to hit the ball so hard that the fielders would let the ball through out of fear. The reaction time would be very little - such was the force of her shots.
You bowled a peach to dismiss Meg Lanning in the semi-final. How did you set her up?
In the first two matches, I wasn't quite in the groove. I remember we were coming back from Bristol to Derby after losing to Australia in the league stage and it was a two-hour journey. I always sit in the front of the bus and on that day Tushar was seated next to me. I was discussing with him why I wasn't able to bowl consistently in the right areas and I realised I have to get back to my basics and start working from zero. Thereafter, every nets session I had, I would visualise some batter from the Indian team as an opponent batsman - Mithali was Meg Lanning, Smriti [Mandhana] was [Nicole] Bolton. I would replay in my head how I used to prepare in 2002-2003. Back in the day, we barely had any videos analyses to seek help from, so visualisation used to play a key role.
That kind of preparation came in handy against Australia, especially to get that wicket of Lanning. My aim was to bowl wicket to wicket, into the batsman, not give her any room, because she's very strong square of the wicket. I knew that even the slightest movement off the pitch can help me fetch an lbw or get her bowled. And that's what happened. She was trying to steer the ball towards third man - she's very strong in that zone - but the hint of movement foxed her.
In terms of quality of cricket, which of the last three games would be your pick of the 2017 World Cup?
To play at Lord's in a World Cup final is every cricketer's dream. But for me, I think the most memorable game was the semi-final [against Australia].
Twenty-year-old Harmanpreet Kaur made her international debut under your captaincy in 2009. What was it like watching her make that unbeaten 171 in the semi-final?
In my entire career, I've never seen anyone bat like that. It's one of those dream innings that you can consider yourself fortunate enough to watch without being at the receiving end of it. Such a fine display of effortless connection and clean-hitting that was. Because of that knock we were able to beat Australia. Harman had single-handedly put them on the back foot and it was going to be really difficult for them to come back. She was immensely dehydrated after the knock and we were worried about what shape she was going to be in the final. But once we won the semi-final, we got together and mimicked the way she reacted at different phases of the knock, when she got those cramps (laughs). She generously let us pull her leg. But, yeah, as a senior player, to see a girl who debuted under you perform in this manner gave me unparalleled joy.
In the final you bowled 45 dot balls in your ten overs, and took 2 for 23. Can you talk us through that spell?
There wasn't much pace or bounce in the wicket. The plan was to only bowl at the stumps and not give them much room. They are very good square of the wicket. At the other end, Shikha wasn't at her best that day, so my role was to only contain. If my objective had been to go for wickets, then the run rate could have probably climbed. So my target was to create more dot balls and bowl more consistently in the zone. On that day everything worked in my favour. When I came back for the second spell, Sarah Taylor and [Nat] Sciver were scoring at four and a half per over. It was looking as though they might score 260-270. My job was to give one breakthrough and that's exactly what happened.
Would you rate that as your best spell?
I have bowled in even more crucial junctures in the past, got wickets and won India the game. Unfortunately, hardly any of those matches were on television. This match was televised and everyone got to watch the spell, which is probably why everybody has been so appreciative of it.
When you started your cricketing career, what was the biggest hindrance you faced as a teenager?
The biggest challenge was travelling from Chakdaha to Calcutta pretty much every day. And because of training and practice, I would miss so many classes. I used to wonder whether if I had been living in Calcutta, I would have got more time and scope for my schooling. Unfortunately, in those days, connectivity [by road or rail] was not 100%.
What is the biggest challenge today that lies in the way of a young girl in India wanting to take up cricket?
If you want to take sports as a career option, you have to have a lot of passion and you have to believe in yourself. I won't say a girl must only choose cricket. They can take up any sport. Nothing else can teach you what sports can teach you about life.
What would your message be to girls who want to be like you?
If a girl wants to be like Jhulan, I'd say: Don't be like Jhulan. Jhulan se bhi accha bano, aur aage jao, aur aage khelo, aur upar leke jao India ko [Go one better than Jhulan, surpass her, play longer than her, and take India to greater heights].

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo