The Richa Ghosh story: from part-time keeper to World Cup record-breaker
India have looked far better balanced since she took over the gloves, and her keeping is now matching up to her hitting
India teen Richa Ghosh is no stranger to firsts. Especially at World Cups.
On March 8, 2020, she became the first-ever concussion substitute in a T20 World Cup final. Two years later, during India's 2022 ODI World Cup opener against Pakistan, she became the first wicketkeeper to effect five dismissals on debut at a women's 50-over global event.
The feat is commendable for any 18-year-old, let alone one making just her eighth ODI appearance. Ghosh the keeper had till then been known more for her batting pyrotechnics. Her first impact with the gloves has left many impressed. One of them is her India and Bengal team-mate Jhulan Goswami.
"Richa has taken responsibility as a wicketkeeper," says Goswami. "She's improving day by day, and her batting ability - you know she is even able to hit big sixes, she can score fast... So I think in our team - she will give us a lot of volume [value] because you are getting one more allrounder, a batting allrounder."
That Ghosh, who counts MS Dhoni among her idols, is keeping wicket at this World Cup is itself extraordinary. To understand why, we must go back in time.
Playing as a specialist batter in March 2021, Ghosh had a horrid time in the field in the second T20I against South Africa in Lucknow. By the end of the match, she was tongue-tied and in tears, fielding at short fine leg, when the last of her many fielding errors on the night handed South Africa a series-sealing last-ball win. And this wasn't a one-off. She had let a ball slip through for four, at point, at a critical juncture of South Africa's chase in the previous match.
In domestic cricket, Ghosh had dabbled in keeping and bowled medium-pace for her state side, Bengal. But, with more established keepers around, Bengal mostly played her as a batting allrounder.
Ghosh had only played five international matches - all T20Is - before that nightmarish evening in Lucknow. But she had done enough already to show why India needed her hitting skills in an otherwise relatively sedate line-up. What to do about her heavy legs in the field, though?
That's where Ghosh's multi-faceted talents came into play. Smriti Mandhana, the stand-in T20I captain in the series, retained Ghosh for the third T20I, but handed her the gloves.
The incumbent in that series, Nuzhat Parween, and longtime first-choice limited-overs keeper Taniya Bhatia, one of the best with the gloves in the women's game, had both struggled to make a mark with the bat. India's balance, as a result, had been shaky. Entrusting Ghosh with keeping duties, despite her having no prior experience of it in international cricket, was a risk the team was willing to take to address this.
In domestic cricket, Ghosh had dabbled in keeping and also bowled medium-pace for her state side, Bengal. But with more established keepers around, Bengal mostly played her as a batting allrounder.
"In the absence of wicketkeeping opportunities, she would do well as a bowler because she is tall and one of the rare hit-the-deck kind of bowlers in women's cricket in our country," Bengal head coach Rituparna Roy says. "She has a fairly strong grounding in all three skills, so Bengal's teams has used her wicketkeeping and bowling based on match-by-match requirements."
In that final T20I against South Africa, Ghosh claimed a straightforward caught-behind of Sinalo Jafta for her first keeping dismissal in India colours.
"Once she got that clarity from the Indian team management that she is being looked at as a wicketkeeping choice, Richa started working harder on her keeping in the Bengal set-up, too, and kept wicket more regularly for the Bengal senior team," Roy says. She adds that Ghosh took up fitness routines to improve her agility and offset some of the disadvantages her height poses.
On the tour of England that followed the South Africa series, Bhatia kept wicket during the one-off Test and the three ODIs. But her lean run with the bat in white-ball cricket opened the door for Ghosh to take over the gloves in the T20Is. Ghosh made an impact almost instantly. In the eighth over of the first T20I, she took the lead in convincing captain Harmanpreet Kaur to use the DRS when an appeal for caught-behind against Danni Wyatt was turned down. The result: a big spike on UltraEdge, and off went Wyatt.
Across the three T20Is, Ghosh was involved in seven dismissals and made 28 lower-middle-order runs off 21 balls. A big affirmation of her rapid evolution as keeper came less than two months later, in the 50-over warm-up game on the tour of Australia, when she effected four dismissals, including the wily stumping of Ellyse Perry off pacer Pooja Vastrakar. Bhatia was no longer a sure-shot inclusion in ODIs.
India had every reason to try Ghosh out in the 50-over format. If successful, her T20I batting credentials could offer India respite from the dearth of runs down the order, that too with the ODI World Cup just around the corner. And Ghosh wasted no time in taking her chance. An unbeaten 29-ball 32 at No. 7 on ODI debut, followed by a 50-ball 44 at No. 5 that anchored a 76-run stand with Mandhana, effectively shut the door out on Bhatia. By the end of the Australia tour, her selection as first-choice keeper for the tour of New Zealand - where she would go on to hit the fastest ODI fifty by an India Women player - and the ODI World Cup had become a foregone conclusion.
According to ODI captain Mithali Raj, Ghosh's "good game sense" - much like Dhoni's - is a standout feature of her glovework. "There are many times I've seen her involvement on the field. That is also a great quality at such a young age," Raj told BCCI.tv during the New Zealand series. Asked about Ghosh's future, Goswami puts it simply: "We all are looking forward [to it]."
That future, if her start to the World Cup is anything to go by, could be very bright.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha