Shared injury pain and comeback joy for Joshi and Lokusooriya
One is nearly six feet tall, lean, and look like she has lost weight, though she tells you she shed the fat and converted it to muscle. The other makes no such claims about her more boxy physique, yet she certainly looks, fitter, than she has in the last few years. Divided by countries, they are united by their familiarity with pain, by revolts by their bodies in the last year. Weeks spent in lonely hotel rooms, away from family. Naps on the physio’s table, as familiar now as your own bed. Both know these, thanks to cartilage injuries in their knees.
When India’s tour of Sri Lanka began, only one of them was in action though. Mansi Joshi last played for India in the 2017 World Cup. She was excited about the potential of her first full season in India blue, with a tour to South Africa and home series against England and Australia around the corner. She had the perfect springboard: an India ‘A’ series against Bangladesh ‘A’, the first of its kind under the BCCI. Happy days ahead. If only her knee agreed. Pain under her left patella meant she bowled only 14 overs before leaving the field. She wouldn’t come back on for eight months.
India know Eshani Lokusooriya well. She was the architect of their ejection from their own World Cup in 2013, the neighbour who called the cops on the house party. She started the tournament by muscling out England, who just happened to be defending champions: 56 off 41 in a winning chase after taking two wickets gave Sri Lanka a shock win. Then she scored the same number of runs, this time unbeaten and off just 31 balls, to shove out the hosts.
But since then, she scored only two fifties in 34 ODI innings. And in the middle of a dry 2017 World Cup, the cartilage in her right knee complained. Loudly. Loudly enough that she had to have surgery in September. Her return to the cricket field took almost a year.
One needed surgery, the other did not. Which one had it tougher? Joshi was first given a prognosis of a month, except the swelling refused to go down. As she popped pills to drain the fluids and dull the pain, she tried to spare her left knee the weight of her body when she stood or walked. Only for her right knee to join the rebellion, giving her pain in the exact same area. Doubt brought tears as the clock ticked-tocked. ‘Soon’ became ‘not yet’, and ‘when’ became ‘whether’. One month became six; she was counting down the days only for fate to rig the calendar while she slept.
Lokusooriya’s treatment offered more clarity but was more invasive: Surgery, then rest for four months, after which she would be able to resume training and slowly work herself back into physical and match fitness. But her knee had been opened up and stitched back. Surgeries like that leave more than scars, they leave memories: the smell of the operation theatre, the anaesthetic memory of tubes in your nose, that horrible feeling of the knee buckling, which is your body’s way of saying ‘we’re not there yet’.
There was a time when neither could walk. Eventually, both were on their feet again. No time to waste, but also no time to settle back in. Both players returned to competitive cricket in selection matches. For Mansi, it was the Challenger Trophy, where a good burst in the third game impressed the selectors. Lokusooriya played inter-squad selection matches, in which she scored a critical cameo to take her team to victory. Joshi found herself on the flight to Sri Lanka, Nike pants hiding taped patellas. Waiting for her was Lokusooriya, now looking to concentrate on the shortest format.
Both players had made it, and they marked the day. Joshi picked up three wickets in the first ODI in a winning effort, the scream when she took the first showing how much it meant to her. Lokusooriya scored 45 off 31 in a losing one; the slump when she mistimed her final shot, just 15 runs from victory, telling the same story.
Both started playing cricket casually, before moving on to the hardball cricket in their late teens. One might strike you as quiet, but nurses a temper inside, the stereotypical fast bowler. The other has a smile close at hand, the prankster of the team, who won’t allow her skipper to forget the time she left a tap open and flooded the room. Their careers might move in similarly different directions. Joshi is 25, and if she remains fit, can challenge for the position of leader of the Indian attack, especially with the T20 retirement of Jhulan Goswami. Lokusooriya is 34, looking to rediscover her glory days before her body sends her more reminders. But expect more from both of them on their returns. Injury can be excruciating, exacting, even soul-destroying. But it can also be educating and humbling. And a path to greater things.