Jhulan Goswami’s successful appeal for leg before wicket against South Africa’s Raisibe Ntozakhe in the Quadrangular Series match at Potchefstroom in South Africa is as historic as the late cut that Sunil Gavaskar essayed off Pakistan spinner Ijaz Faqih in the Ahmedabad Test in 1987. Both were path-breaking moments. Goswami’s strike helped her get 181 wickets and emerge as the highest wicket-taker in women’s One-Day Internationals, breaking Australian Cathryn Fitzpatrick’s haul of 180. Gavaskar’s stroke helped him reach a then-unheard-of batting milestone: 10,000 Test runs. The obstacles Goswami has had to surmount, though, are perhaps more formidable than what Gavaskar had to counter, in the sense that hers is also a contest against a patriarchal system steeped in gender prejudices. In the context of women’s cricket and the limited opportunities it offers or the sexist disdain for a woman fast bowler’s claim to greatness, the achievement is mind-boggling. The 34-year-old from Bengal astutely led the seam attack, her tall frame and the power in her sinews used to good effect at the bowling crease. The rewards for her speed and consistency have been emphatic, and currently with 271 international wickets spread across ODIs, Tests (40 wickets) and Twenty20 Internationals (50), she is the highest wicket-taker among women.
Goswami’s rise from Nadia in Bengal to her current iconic status is an inspiring tale. It isn’t easy to sustain as a woman cricketer over an international calendar that has more gaps than games. Sample this. Since her debut in 2002, Goswami has played 153 ODIs while M.S. Dhoni, following his maiden limited overs game in 2004, has represented the country in 286 matches. This, while Test matches are becoming a rarity in the women’s international calendar, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India adheres to the priorities of the men’s team while sending, or not sending, teams to tournaments such as the Asian Games, thus depriving Indian women cricketers of the precious opportunity to prove themselves on a big stage. Certainly, the Board has helped in the rise and recognition of Indian women’s cricket, but it is still too gradual. The BCCI offered central contracts to the women’s team since 2015, and this year, thanks to the Committee of Administrators’ (CoA) recommendation, gave the Lifetime Achievement award to former India captain Shantha Rangaswamy. This in itself is a remarkable turnaround for a sport that even at the beginning of the new millennium banked on the players to sustain themselves more than any other sports federation. If Indian women’s cricket has gained a foothold over the recent years, Goswami and teammates like her skipper, Mithali Raj, have played a decisive part in it. Jhulan Goswami is a pioneer.