Jhulan Goswami- An exclusive interview

Jhulan Goswami needs no introduction. A mainstay in the Indian women’s cricket team for the past 15 years; Goswami has cemented her place as a legend of the game. A medium pacer by speciality, she currently holds the record for the most wickets in ODIs in the world; and at the age of 34, is still going strong. She’s given her blood, sweat and tears for the nation on the field, and simultaneously inspired millions of young girls with her legendary work ethic and inspiring background story.

Despite being all of 34 years old, an age where most medium pace bowlers have retired long past due to injuries, Goswami is still setting the benchmark for bowling worldwide.

Throughout her long career, she’s been an inspiration for several international players who’re playing currently, including Pakistani youngster Kainat Imtiaz who states that Jhulan was the only reason that she started cricket, and now it feels surreal to play against her. This story is made more heartwarming by the fact that Pakistan and India have historically been arch rivals, both on the cricket field, and in the war on the battlefield; which just goes to show the power of sport to unite people, irrespective of nationalities or personal beliefs.

Jhulan’s tryst with international cricket began at the 1997 cricket World Cup as a ballgirl in an Australia vs New Zealand match, and she made her debut for the Indian team at the age of 19 in 2002. Hailing from Bengal, the center of football in India, Goswami is a self- professed Maradona fan. Her family were major football fans too, and she fondly remembers the 1992 World Cup, where Argentina lost to Germany, and it felt as if her own family had lost.

In 2007, Goswami was named the ICC Women’s cricketer of the year and received the M.A. Chidambaram trophy for Best Women Cricketer in 2011. In 2008, she took over the Indian captaincy, which she held till 2011. In 2010, she was awarded the Arjuna Award, and in 2012, the 4th highest civilian honour given by the Indian government: the Padma Shri(becoming the second female cricketer after Diana Edulji to receive this honour).

Currently, Goswami mentors youngsters in the Indian team regularly, and tells them just go out and enjoy their cricket. Personally, she just wants to continue playing cricket, and motivating herself daily; as according to her, nothing more important than playing for the country, and her passion for the sport stands out in every word spoken.

Indian captain Mithali Raj has had a long relationship with Jhulan, both as a teammate and a friend, and she shared details on that relationship in a previous interview, “I’ve seen her grow as a player, we’ve got a lot of memories together, and one thing that she won’t tell you, is that I’ve even played a lot of pranks on her.” Mithali added, “She’s a team devoted, team loyal player, who always delivers when the country needs her. There was a phase where she wasn’t getting any wickets, but she came back and is now a force to reckon with.

Youngsters should learn from her and her discipline, disciplined workouts. Any captain would love to have a bowler like her in the side.”

In a recent felicitation ceremony, Indian cricketing legend Sourav Ganguly talked about Jhulan, and the immense impact she’s left on women’s cricket, saying, “The last time my mother watched a cricket match was when I played, and the next time she watched it was when you played in the World Cup final. What you’ve achieved is remarkable, you’ve actually put women’s cricket on the map.”

Excerpts from WCZ’s exclusive interview with Jhulan Goswami:

AYUSHI THAKUR(A.T.): Do you think the idea of a women’s IPL is feasible, or should the BCCI focus more on scheduling international matches?

JHULAN GOSWAMI(J.G.): Both are equally important. I can’t comment much on this right now, but there could be talks of an IPL in the future, and if we could create a window for WIPL, that’d be great. But yes, playing more international matches is very important, particularly Triangular and Quadrangular series against the best teams in the world.

A.T: How would you recommend improving the quality of female players on the domestic circuit?

J.G: I think we must play increased number of tournaments, and what I heard was that the BCCI will also be looking to improve Under 16 tournaments, and school cricket; and if you encourage more young girls, there’ll be lots of opportunities for girls to continue to play cricket. But I think what’s happening right now is absolutely right, there are plenty of girls participating in quality tournaments currently, and the most important thing I think would be to start cricket from the grassroot level. At the same time if you can encourage university cricket too, that’d be great.

A.T: Bengal is a football crazy state and you yourself are a Maradona fan. What made you pursue cricket in the first place? Who inspired you to take up cricket?

J.G: Unfortunately, when I started playing sport, there was only football and cricket on TV. I remember watching the 1990 World Cup final of Argentina against West Germany, which was my first experience. You know, the distance from India to Argentina is quite far, but when I saw my relatives, friends etc start crying after Argentina lost, it had a major impact on me. I mean, that’s the kind of fan following Maradona has in Calcutta, so definitely that had a major influence on me. Apart from that, no other sport used to be televised, except cricket, so as a young child, I used to watch a lot of cricket too, along with my cousins, and after that I just fell in love with the sport.

A.T: What was the atmosphere in the locker room like after the final? How did the team recover from the loss, and do you still feel the pain?

J.G: It was very disappointing, everyone broke down; it was extremely painful and heartbreaking. It was a very bad feeling, I can’t express that feeling, but we had to overcome it, as we’re playing a sport, and sport teaches you how to deal with these things; but yes, until we win a World Cup, maybe it be T20 or ODI, it’ll keep piercing our hearts.

A.T: You’ve still got quite a few years of good cricket left in you, but what are your after retirement plans? Will you open up an academy and take up coaching or mentoring youngsters?

J.G: Haven’t thought about that yet. As long as i’m playing, I’ll be very keen and focused to continue playing, and at this moment I’m just focusing on my cricket. But as soon as I retire, I’ll let you know what my plans are. *laughs*

A.T: What would your advice be to youngsters, especially young girls, who want to pursue cricket?

J.G: For any person, whether it’s a boy or girl, it’s important to go with your passion; and whatever you do be dedicated, and don’t be afraid to do hard work. Hard work is the key, if you don’t work hard honestly, definitely you’re not going to do well.

A.T: Do you have an official twitter account? There are a few accounts on twitter posing as you, but I thought I’d ask you personally if you run any of them.

J.G: No, so far I’ve been off social media of all kinds, I don’t have an official twitter account or Facebook page, but I do have an Instagram account(@jhulangoswami). I’m not a very technologically inclined person… *laughs*

A.T: Mithali said in an interview that she pranks you a lot. What do those pranks consist of?

J.G: Oh, that’s a very long story, next time you ask Mithali only, she’ll tell you everything, all the details about the pranks. In the early days, she used to do a lot of these things. No one knows this, but she’s very naughty, only some people know that she’s a very naughty girl, she keeps thinking of new pranks. When you spend so much time together, playing together for 15-16 years, these things happen often.

A.T: I think one of the major issues in this World Cup was the fielding and the fact that the team couldn’t handle the pressure in crucial situations. How can that be improved upon?

J.G: I don’t think so; I think we fielded well, batted well, bowled well. But yes, since this was a pretty new team, for most of them it was their first World Cup, so certain situations were tough to handle. Except for me, Harman, Mithali and Ekta, most girls were playing their first World Cup, so obviously this thing can happen. But I think what they learnt from this World Cup would be great exposure for them, build up some kind of character and will help them a lot in the future. They can improve their standards, now they know what World cricket is all about, and I’m sure they’ll work accordingly, with their own individual plans. I’m very optimistic about this group of girls, because they’re very promising, exciting players; they can be attacking and ruthless with any team, so definitely I have high regards for them. And they’ll do well, I have a lot of confidence in them.

A.T: You’re one of the most consistent bowlers around, and one of the fastest too. How do you maintain that consistency?

J.G: I do a lot of training to maintain my fitness schedule. As a fast bowler it’s important to sustain it, and if you want to survive in international cricket, you have to keep training consistently, especially as you grow older.

A.T: How do you prepare for a match? Any pre-match routines or superstitions?

J.G: Everybody has some kind of routine, I don’t believe people who say they don’t. So yes, I also have a specific routine, which if I don’t follow, it throws me off my game a little. It’s not a superstition, it’s just that you’re creating a kind of ‘mind zone, and you want to stay in the zone throughout the match, and these routines help in that.

A.T: What does your diet usually consist of? Are you a vegetarian?

J.G: No, I eat non-veg; chicken, mutton etc. And a lot of fish, Bengali’s love to eat fish…

A.T: You used to travel 150km daily for your practice sessions, so what did you give up in your childhood to pursue cricket? Are there any regrets you have?

J.G: My studies were affected a lot, because, you know, whole day I used to spend on cricket, and traveling a lot, so it was very difficult to continue with my schooling, but same time I put a lot of effort in my cricket. It was really difficult, as the ground was very far from my house, and I had to prioritise between my education and cricket. Because if you focus on school too, you feel sleepy, drowsy and not able to concentrate; as from 4:30am to 5am, i had to wake up, catch the train, walk to the ground, and then do heavy training there, before again rushing back, at which point your mind is unwilling to concentrate on anytrjing. So, somewhere down the line, you have to choose what you’re truly passionate about and I have no regrets about what chose.

A.T: How does it feel to be getting a doctorate from the University of Kalyani, Dr J?

J.G: *laughs* How did you hear about that nickname? It was a big surprise for me. I never thought about that, and when I heard about it, I thought, what is going on, you know, they’re giving me such a big honour. I hardly studied that much in school in the first place, I passed 12th class with a lot of difficulty, and now they’re giving me a PHD. *laughs* again So yes, it was a really really big thing for me, and I thank the chancellor, vice chancellor of the university, it gave me immense happiness. When I first heard it, I laughed also a lot, I was thinking how did I manage to get it, but it means a lot to me.

A.T: What are your goals for the next few years?

J.G: Just focusing on cricket for now, as you know the T20 World Cup is next year, so we’re hoping to play well and perform well as a team on the world stage. It’s great that we’re getting the opportunity to play another World Cup in just another year; different format, but a World Cup is a World Cup.

RAPID FIRE

1. Favourite food: Indian and Chinese cuisine

2. Friends on the Indian team/who you usually talk to: Everyone is my good friend, I talk to everybody.

3. Describe yourself in one word: Emotional

4. What would your autobiography be called: The Mystery Girl.

5. Favourite book: I read a lot of autobiographies, like Wings of Fire(APJ Abdul Kalam’s autobiography), Swami Vivekanand’s autobiography etc.

6. Favourite match of Maradona: 1986, when he was playing for an Italian Club Napoli, he played a lot of very crucial roles, and when I watch those matches I find it’s unbelievable quality of football he plays. He’s a rare talent, he can literally talk with the ball, so it’s not often you see a player like that.

7. Most memorable ever wicket you’ve ever taken: Every wicket to be honest, I recall each wicket very vividly, as it took a lot of planning and hardwork. But when you haven’t got a wicket for 2-3 matches, and then when you get a wicket, that is very important to you.

8. If you had a movie that was made on you, who would you want to play you? (This Interview was taken before she announced a documentary would be made on her. The documentary is currently titled, “Chakhada Express) : Difficult to answer, anyone from Bollywood though. *laughs*