Sunday, November 04, 2007

The fastest bowler in the world

That’s Jhulan Goswami for you. The ICC Women’s Cricketer of the year is all set to break more records

By Shevlin Sebastian

“I saw the 1997 Women's World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand at the Eden Gardens,” says Jhulan Goswami, 23. “I got inspired enough to find out where the women's cricket association office in Kolkata was. There, I met the coach, Swapan Sadhu.”

She started training under him at Vivekananda Park. In 1999, she was selected to play for Bengal. Because of her good performance in her first season, Air India hired her in 2000. “In 2002, I made my debut for India,” she says. So far, she has played 79 one-day internationals and eight Tests in New Zealand, South Africa, New Zealand, India and England.

Of course, the highlight of her career was when she helped India to a historic
first-ever Test series triumph over England in August last year. She took 10 for 78 in the second Test at Taunton and became the first Indian women to take 10 wickets in a Test. Later, she was named the player of the series. It was this performance that enabled her to win the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year Award for 2007, which was presented to her by Twenty 20 Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni at a glittering function at Johannesburg on September 10.

The trophy, made by Swarovski, is a crystal cricket ball, studded with 4,200 Swarovski crystal beads, and it is enclosed in a hand, which represents the concept of ‘breaking through’ in the pursuit of excellence. Incidentally, the other nominees were Lisa Sthalekar of Australia and England's Claire Taylor.

Not many people know that Goswami is the fastest bowler in international women’s cricket today. She has reached a top speed of 135 kms per hour, and, like her idol, former Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath, she has a nagging accuracy. “I do weights, I do sprints and I am a good athlete,” she says. “I have done everything that you need to do in order to be a good fast bowler.”

So far, she has taken 33 Test and 96 ODI wickets. In the ODIs, along with Nooshin Al Khadeer, she is the second highest wicket-taker for India, after the retired Neetu David, who took 130 wickets.

Says Subhangi Kulkarni, the convenor of the BCCI women’s committee: “Goswami has put in a lot of effort to improve her game. Apart from being a good bowler, she also bats well and is a brilliant slip fielder.” Veena Paralkar, the manager of the Indian team in England, says, “She has overcome a lot of setbacks to be where she is now. Jhulan is a good human being and is the pride of the Indian team.”

Goswami was in Kochi recently for the Castrol Awards for Cricketing Excellence function. The 5’ 11” Goswami, wearing a blue coat and trousers, towered over all the women, and a few men, as well. She announced a new Outstanding Indian Women Cricketer of The Year award instituted by Castrol.

“This experience in Kochi has been superb,” she says, as she ate vanilla ice-cream mixed with chocolate sauce and caramel nuts. “It was so nice to meet legendary cricketers like Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Erapalli Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi, and Chandrasekhar. All of them showed a lot of appreciation to me for winning the ICC award and were very encouraging.”

It has been a long journey for Goswami. She grew up in a small town, Lalpur, 80 kms from Kolkata. When she was a young girl, she would play football, volleyball and cricket with the neighbourhood boys. “Because we played tennis ball cricket, I did batting, bowling and fielding,” she says. “I loved it.”

But life became a tough grind for Goswami when she started training under her coach Sandhu in far-away Kolkata. She had to get up at 4 a.m. to catch the first train in order to make it to the ground on time. But she persevered and in her very first season, she impressed selectors and fellow players with her pace and movement. Today, she is one of the brightest talents in Indian women’s cricket.

And now that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has taken over women’s cricket, women cricketers like Goswami can hope to get a better deal. At this moment, unlike the men, who get paid Rs 2.6 lakh for a Test, the women cricketers are paid a paltry Rs 2,500 per match and a $50 daily allowance when they go abroad.

“The BCCI has only recently taken over women's cricket,” says Goswami. “So, they need to be given some time. Now, we are allowed to use the same facilities as the men. I am sure things will improve in two years’ time.”

So, what are the future goals of this Commercial Service Supervisor of Air India? “I believe in doing well today, then, automatically, the tomorrow will be looked after,” she says. “I don't have any specific goals. I just believe in today.”

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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