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Chakdaha Express reaches final station

“The lockdown is being relaxed this week and we can go out and run. I need to train outdoors. Training at home isn’t going to be enough. Will you come with me?” Jhulan Goswami asked this writer.

It was in May 2021 when the country was reeling under the impact of the second wave. The walls at home were turning claustrophobic. Each day was a grim reminder that things weren’t right. Sport had not yet picked up globally and it wasn’t something anybody had ever seen before. Goswami was getting restless.

“Each second I stay at home will impact my fitness and my well-being,” she said.

Time was calling out on her and no one knew it better than Goswami herself. With an insatiable hunger to perform for the team and push till the last stride, she had called to ask about N95 masks, which she needed for training and wanted to carry some to England.

Goswami wasn’t worried about the virus. All that mattered was cricket.

At 38, Goswami was ready for the hard yards. Getting up at 5am to train before people started to troop in, planning innovative drills at home to keep things going, running more laps than every youngster who trained with her. This was Goswami all through her career. All she knew was hard work, not leaving things to chance and preparing the best she could.

For two decades, Goswami could not afford to let down thousands of aspiring women whose sense of self-belief had been shaped by her. That Indians can bowl fast, redefine the narrative and aspire to greatness is Goswami’s contribution to the sport.

Goswami picked her wickets in front of thousands. She was there for the fans in flesh and blood, for people to experience and be a part of her journey, enjoy and consume the acts few had done before her.

Women’s cricket, before Mithali Raj and Goswami, was used to discrimination for the longest time. They were used to the narrative of being underprivileged, content at playing the second fiddle.

Goswami’s narrative was different. It was one of dominance and assertion, of winning and achievement, of bowling fast and breaking taboos, of creating a niche that now many will want to emulate.

How does one best describe Goswami? That she was one of the best the world had seen is known and accepted. That she was the most diligent and conscientious is also known. What one can add here is that she was equally obsessive, a quality needed to be great. Her longevity as a fast bowler is a testimony.

“I was pacing up and down the room till about 3.30am. My mind was riddled with self-doubt. It was not a happy space,” Goswami had said a day after a no ball had cost India an ODI win against Australia in September 2021.

She wasn’t one to forgive and forget.

“Having slept really late I got up around 10.30am the following morning”, she said.

“Within minutes Harmanpreet (Kaur) and Smriti (Mandhana) called me and said they were taking me out for breakfast. I have my own routine for pre match day mornings but they were insistent I break my routine. They did not give me a chance,” she laughed.

At breakfast her teammates helped her to relax and focus on the third and final game.

“When I walked out to bowl for the final ODI, my body was sore but my mind was racing. I had to do well.” She did and won India the match by scoring the winning runs.

She wouldn’t have rested easily otherwise. She was okay with letting herself down but when it came to her team, it was non-negotiable. All her career she has done the same.

And in doing so elevated herself to the status of legend in her sport. The sport is poorer now.

Women’s cricket will miss her. And she will miss being there in the middle and running in for India. But she knows that she has given it her all. Each ball bowled was effort personified. She enriched her sport and inspired many. She may not have won a World Cup, but she was part of a revolution in Indian women’s cricket.

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