Dropping Jhulan Goswami at the Last Stoppage, 'Chakda Express' Continues Journey
Destiny will have its share of scepticism, but believers will praise how it planned Jhulan Goswami's swansong.
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On the consecrated banks of the river Ganges, West Bengal was enjoying a peaceful July afternoon, marked with its characteristic serenity. Though the scathing heat of summer had already taken its leave, the celebratory phase had not set in yet, because the Durga Puja was still three months too far.
The city of joy, however, could not care less, as an enormous comber of euphoria swept across every household. The reason for their celebrations was astounding. Beloved son of the soil, the ‘Prince of Calcutta,’ Sourav Ganguly was flying his jersey on the iconic balcony of England’s Lord’s Cricket Ground, as India had just pulled off a miraculous victory against the hosts to win the NatWest Trophy.
Though the fight for equality in cricket is still prevalent, women’s cricket was not nearly as popular in 2002, as it is today. Had it been so, the city would have shown equal enthusiasm in celebrating the incredible achievement of its daughter against England, as it did for its son.
Six months before Ganguly’s India defeated England, Anjum Chopra’s India did the unthinkable by ‘whitewashing’ England, winning 5-0 in an ODI series. India’s highest wicket-taker in that series was Neetu David, the left-arm spinner from Kanpur who was already an established name by then.
The second-highest wicket-taker, however, was a much more obscure name back then. A tall and lean 19-year-old pacer emerged as the number one cause of headaches for the likes of Laura Newton and Caroline Atkins, as she went on to scalp seven wickets, at an average of only 14.71 and an economy rate of 2.78 runs per over.
Destiny will never be freed from its share of scepticism, but those who believe in the phenomenon will praise it for how it planned out the swansong of that young pacer.
Two decades since it witnessed the Ganguly episode, the home of cricket, Lord’s witnessed the last international match of the pacer, who bid adieu to cricket with the stature of one of the very best to have ever graced the sport. As she came darting, aiming to uproot the opposition’s stumps for the last time in her international career, cricket fans all across the globe witnessed one last hurrah of a trailblazer, a testament of defying odds, and an inspiration for millions.
It was the climax scene of a groundbreaking act called ‘Jhulan Goswami.’
How To Start an Express Train
Barring Lord’s and West Bengal, Goswami and Ganguly share another similarity – the indelible affinity for football. Be it destiny’s plans for the believers or a pure coincidence for the sceptics, the ‘Chakdaha Express,’ as she is affectionately called now, decided to pursue cricket professionally only when she was 15.
Australia and New Zealand were competing in the final of the 1997 ICC Women’s World Cup at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, and just because someone gave her complimentary passes, she decided to make the 150-kilometre roundtrip.
Little did she or her family know that the supposed ‘one-off’ journey will turn into a regular occurrence, as mesmerized by Cathryn Fitzpatrick’s pace, the teenager would leave no stone unturned to become the best pacer the country had ever produced.
Being an embodiment of determination and perseverance, Goswami became the fastest bowler in women’s cricket when Fitzpatrick retired.
Very soon, Anushka Sharma starrer Chakda 'Xpress, the biopic of the pacer, will hit the theatres, enlightening everyone about the hardships Goswami had to endure to attain this stature. Exaggeration of struggle is often a cinematic inevitability in sports biopics, but for Bengal’s ‘Jhuli di,’ the journey could not have been any more arduous than it was.
An Express, Sprouting in a Local Train
A teenager spellbound after watching a World Cup final makes a promising prelude for the celluloid, but Jhulan Goswami’s hometown, Chakdaha, was not really a breeding ground for cricketers, let alone female cricketers.
It was far away from the capital Kolkata – both in terms of distance and infrastructure. Fresh vegetables are perhaps what the town was most known for, until among the lush greenery of the crops, Goswami infused the red of the leather.
She would wake up at 4 am, hop on a local train to Sealdah, before finally getting aboard a bus to her training centre at Vivekananda Park at 7:30 am. Once done with training, she would travel back the same route, and with the little stamina left after the tedious travel and laborious training, attend school.
Her parents would initially accompany her, but for the bread-earners in a middle-class family, spending the entire morning watching a kin play is a luxury. Soon, Jhulan would make the trip all alone, still only 15 years of age.
It did not take her long to make it to the Bengal team, and in only four years, she would find herself donning the Indian jersey. Against a strong England team, she would register figures of 7-0-15-2, thereby formally announcing the inception of two decades of greatness.
In only her second Test match, Goswami etched her name in the tales of glory, as she played her role to perfection in India’s first-ever Test series win. The arrival of a new prodigy was known to all by then, but promise would transcend into magnificence in 2006.
After drawing the first Test, India met England for the second and last Test match of the series at Taunton. It did not need a cricket expert to analyse on which side the scale was tipped, for the women in blue had never beaten England in Test cricket.
But what transpired on the Country Ground 16 years ago was monumental. Goswami picked up 19 wickets across the two innings as India won their first Test match, and subsequently, the first Test series against England. From her individual perspective, she became the youngest woman cricketer to scalp 10 wickets in an international match.
The seeds were sown, and over the next few years, brilliance ensued. She won the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year a year later, and then became the captain in 2008. The pacer would complete 100 wickets in international cricket in the same year, and by 2012, her cabinet would boast of two special awards amid a plethora of others – the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shree.
The Craft of Prolonged Greatness
Though her initial years in the Indian team were extraordinary, one needs to master a particular craft to attain a legendary stature – longevity. Goswami was the May Morris of this craft, not only mastering it but opening new, unexplored dimensions.
Fifteen years since her debut, the ‘Chakdaha Express’ surpassed Fitzpatrick to become the highest wicket-taker in ODIs, and a year later, she became the first cricketer in the history of women’s cricket to scalp 200 ODI wickets – an achievement deemed worthy enough of getting her face on a commemorative stamp.
She reclaimed the status of being the number one bowler in women’s ODIs at the age of 36, became the highest wicket-taker in Women’s World Cup history, had the longest-ever Test career among Indian women, and became the only Indian female cricketer to pick up 100+ ODI wickets, while scoring 1000+ runs.
The long list of achievements will testify that at an age when many strategise where to invest for better returns, Goswami's strategies solely revolved around where to pitch her deliveries to pick up more wickets.
The Last Stoppage, and an Unending Pilgrimage
Now at 39, she could easily have enjoyed her status of a legend, and used it to play down a few subpar performances, except that the indomitable 15-year-old from Chakdaha resided inside her till her last match, driving her to make and break records in every match she competes in.
When she stepped onto the field last Sunday, 18 September, for an ODI match against England, she made two records. Goswami became the oldest female cricketer to play ODI cricket, and by dismissing English opener Tammy Beaumont, she became the leading wicket-taker against England on the Three Lions’ soil in this format.
As Goswami stepped on the field her last international match on 24 September, it marked the concluding act of a remarkable career, but not the conclusion of the indomitable spirit that we now know as 'Chakdaha Express.'
For every time a girl decides to put in the hard yards, every time a girl steams in to bowl the perfect yorker or the most delicate cutter, 'Chakdaha Express' will live on, continuing on its journey.
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