India fast bowler Jhulan Goswami is looking forward to playing alongside West Indies allrounder Deandra Dottin, Bangladesh spinner Salma Khatun and Thailand opener Nattakan Chantam - all first-time overseas participants in the Women's T20 Challenge - when the three-team tournament begins in Sharjah on November 4.
"I've never played with Deandra Dottin previously. This is going to be the first time I share the dressing room with her. [I'm] really excited to play with her," Goswami, who will turn out for the Trailblazers in the four-match series, said to ESPNcricinfo. "She is a specialist in this format - very strong, very tough. She can clear the boundaries [at will], and has a record hundred in this format. She is a very good cricketer and could be a great asset to our side."
While Dottin, one of 12 overseas players in this season's T20 Challenge, will be expected to open the batting for the Trailblazers alongside captain Smriti Mandhana, Chantam, the 24-year-old Thailand opener who impressed with her quality stroke-making during her side's maiden T20 World Cup appearance in Australia earlier this year, is also a contender for the role.
"A girl coming from Thailand to play in our league, having done so well in the T20 World Cup - it's a very good addition to the Women's T20 Challenge," Goswami said of Chantam, who during the T20 World Cup became the first Thailand player to score a fifty in a global tournament.
"Earlier we never quite thought Thailand would go on to play the World Cup, but there they were, playing courageously and playing some good competitive cricket - there's no doubt about it - it's been a great journey for Thailand Women. More so because before their men's team, their women's team qualified for a cricket World Cup. A good batter from that World Cup team playing for Trailblazers is amazing. I am looking forward to knowing about her culture, her ideas, and bowling to her in the nets."
Goswami has been part of the Trailblazers side since the first year of the tournament, 2018, when her team suffered a last-ball defeat against the Supernovas in the one-off exhibition match in Mumbai.
"The lockdown and quarantine taught me that all of us need to be very patient and value the little things in life that you would otherwise ignore"
"Last year I played alongside Sophie Ecclestone in this competition, and I am glad this time too she is in our squad," Goswami said. "It's a very interesting mix and I am looking forward to playing with them, and most importantly, learning about their cultures, their processes, how they prepare, especially for the big matches. I'd be open to incorporating those [new learnings] in my process."
A year shy of completing two decades on the international circuit, Goswami, who turns 38 later this month, last played a competitive match on March 8, in the inter-state senior women's one-day league. That same day women's international cricket came to a halt following the Australia vs India T20 World Cup final at the MCG as Covid-19 spread worldwide.
India's withdrawal from the white-ball tour of England in July meant Goswami, who retired from T20Is in 2018, and the rest of the India players were left without any opportunities to regroup until the three squads for the T20 Challenge landed in Dubai on October 21 (after a nine-day quarantine in Mumbai for the Indian players).
Goswami said returning to training after the long break was difficult on the body.
"I had to start from zero. Absolute zero. Initially my legs were feeling tired, body was a bit stiff, the swiftness of movements was missing slightly. For most of these past eight months, there were hardly any opportunities to bowl with your full, regular run-up, so I could only bowl with short run-ups, which doesn't quite allow for the natural rhythm of a pacer. The intensity was not there.
"I had been trying to manage my training to whatever small degree was possible since August, in both my hometown, Chakdaha, and Kolkata [where she currently lives]. I would go to the ground early morning, around 6:30-7am, do my running at the Jadavpur University ground [in Kolkata]. For the majority of that period, it wasn't 100% [intensity], but for athletes, something is better than nothing."
Another challenge for the players has been the multiple quarantines before they could meet up to practise in Dubai, forcing a break in physical training and also taxing the mind.
"This schedule of quarantining in one's [home] country and then in another, like we did in Mumbai and then in Dubai for around 14 days in total, can upset players' rhythm. You resume training, regain some of that swiftness, then go into quarantine - your body has to do a lot of switching on and off. Whatever training you did for a month and a half back home, because of those 14 days, everything comes to a pause again.
"You're cut off from everyone, cooped up in one hotel room. It is really challenging, mentally. Sure, you can do a lot of phone and video calls with your squad members and family, but to remain confined within an unfamiliar space for over a week can certainly ask a lot of questions of you. It's not easy. One needs a lot of mental courage to get to the other side of it. For cricketers or athletes, who are mostly outdoors, it can be particularly difficult."
Goswami also pointed out that while the training sessions in Dubai would help all 45 cricketers participating in the T20 Challenge to get back in the groove, players from the subcontinent, South Africa and Thailand were at a disadvantage when compared to those from West Indies and England.
"If you look [at the pandemic-affected women's cricket landscape], most of us didn't have any matches to play. Australia, England, New Zealand and even the West Indian girls have had some proper game time. We didn't have any camps [either] in all these months in India because of the [Covid-19] situation. Those girls have some recent [muscle] memory of competitive cricket [to fall back on]. That could be a difference. Adaptability will be key."
As cricket moves into a bio-bubble era, Goswami said players would have to prepare to adapt to unfamiliar situations.
"The lockdown and quarantine taught me that all of us need to be very patient and value the little things in life that you would otherwise ignore. That's been the biggest lesson I've learnt. [It's as] important for experienced players as youngsters to realise that you have no choice but to accept the situation.
"We don't know how long this might last in sport or cricket - quarantine, bubbles, and all these protocols - but the reality is, this is how things are for us for now. If you start cribbing, it's not going to help. I just kept telling myself that it's better to look forward to what you love the most: to play cricket. That's the best motivation you can give yourself."
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo