When greatness meets greatness its worth the watch. Indian cricket’s two most celebrated names – Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, captains of Railways and Bengal respectively – took the field at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Saturday (December 29). For the handful who were at the venue, the billing lived up to the expectations with Goswami having the last laugh on the day.
While one led a team packed with experienced and current Indian players waiting for an opportunity to dominate with their performance, the other captain led a bunch of young and upcoming players who had performed as a unit to enter the semi-final of the senior inter-state 50-over tournament.
Bengal, who had reached so far after finishing runners-up in the plate group last season, had one dream – to end the dream of the defending champions. Their ploy so far had been to put runs on the board and choke the opposition, and Goswami did not hesitate to take the same route despite it having rained the previous night in the city and the conditions being overcast.
Goswami, loyal servant of Indian cricket, is an emotionally charged individual. It does not take long to know what is running in her head. When she took guard in the 41st over, Bengal were 143 for 5 and Railways were truly in charge.
Having played against a strong Railways outfit on many occasions through her illustrious career that is now close to completing two decades, she knew something had to be done to shift the momentum. And, she walked the talk in style, remaining unbeaten on 50 off just 34 balls, which was as important as Deepti Sharma’s steady 85 in taking Bengal to an eventul match-winning total of 211 for 7.
She hit the first ball she faced from Rajeshwari Gayakwad for a boundary and there was no looking back after that. Talk about the captain leading from the front. She took a particular liking to Poonam Yadav, the most successful bowler for Railways in the competition, when she hit a straight six in the 42nd over. The second and last six of the match also came off her bat, against Sneh Rana in the 45th over.
In a game where run-making was difficult, Goswami produced the most impactful performance. It became difficult for Railways bowlers to stop her, and they seemed to have no second plan. Not only were her five fours and two sixes forceful, the way she ran twos during her partnership of 48 with Deepti were equally useful.
That Goswami was able to attack was largely because of the foundation laid by the fifth-wicket stand of 81 between Deepti and the very experienced Neha Maji.
After the fall of the first wicket, Prativa joined the in-form Deepti Sharma in the middle. The No.3 batter looked confident and technically sound in the few deliveries she faced, but as the old saying goes never run off a misfield. The error cost Prativa her wicket as Ekta Bisht recovered well after the ball deflected off her knee to produce a direct hit.
The young Tanusree Sarkar failed to rotate the strike and was caught at mid-off trying to play an arieal shot. Railways had the necessary cushion for Mithali to introduce her most successful bowler – Poonam – who did not take long to make an impact, beating Mandira Mahapatra with flight to have her stumped.
Deepti finally found an able company in Maji as both were able to rotate the strike with quick singles, and also taking twos during their partnership of 81. Neha was particularly successful playing the sweep shot. The shot also led to her demise when Gayakwad bowled her.
With momentum on their side, Bengal started brilliantly on the field, and who else but Goswami to set the tone, conceding just two runs in her first five overs.
It helped that Shubhlakshmi Sharma, who incidentally had attended the pre-season camp for Railways but was not considered good enough to make it to the squad, struck early to reduce the opposition to 1 for 2. Both Punam Raut and Rana were trapped in front of the wicket trying to work the ball on the leg side.
Mithali and Nuzhat Parween got the scoreboard moving. Despite what the context of any match is, it is always a delight to watch Mithali play – the most prolific batter in the world. She had added 88 with Parween when Deepti forced her to guide a well flighted delivery straight into the hands of Prativa at point. That was the breakthrough Bengal were after, and it was poignant that Deepti, who has played most of her international cricket under Mithali’s captaincy, provided that.
It was yet again Goswami’s turn to make a dent, and she did that in style very early in her second spell when she bowled Mona Meshram to break a 53-run stand.
It was all now on Parween, but a brilliant catch behind the stumps by wicketkeeper Aparna Mondal sent her back in the 38th over. Shublakshmi had struck once again. Veda Krishnamurthy, the last recognised batter, had to take charge of the last 65 runs of the chase. She survived a chance when Mondal missed a stumping, but failed to make use of it. She played uppishly against a good length delivery from Shubhlakshmi to be caught by a forward diving Deepti inches off the ground.
That was truly the last nail in the coffin even though Arundhati Reddy and Kavita Patil took a positive approach in their 16-run stand. The final garnishing to one of the biggest days for Bengal cricket was provided by Goswami herself. She brought herself back in the 49th over to take the last two wickets in a space of four balls and script a 21-run win.
Goswami’s freshness on the field was evident. Having retired from the T20 format, she did not travel to the Windies for the World T20. Even in this tournament, she has not bowled her full quota of overs in any of the ten matches, bringing herself for second spells only when absolutely needed. This was only the second time that she bowled nine overs in a game in this competition, and finished with excellent analysis of 9-3-9-3. That Shubhlakshmi chose this day to take five wickets only helped the overall cause.
Goswami is now a step away from bringing her longstanding dream of giving her beloved Bengal a silverware come true.