The India spearhead looks back at her two decades in cricket, the evolution of fast bowling in the women's game, and her own transformation over the years
Just over 20 years since her India debut, Jhulan Goswami is coming up to the close of a storied career in which she has played 274 games for the country. Ahead of her fifth ODI World Cup, the record-holder for most wickets in the format in women's cricket looks at how fast bowling has evolved in her time, the importance of physical training, why so many quick bowlers in women's cricket switch to spin, and more.
How has the perception of quick bowlers in women's cricket changed over the last two decades?
I don't think the utility of pace bowlers has diminished, though spinners are having more success than they had in my early years in international cricket. Earlier, in the first half of my career, the pitches used to be ordinary across the world. There was no help for medium-pacers. They were just deflating for any kind of cricket.
That's why our spinners were considered our strength for every home series. If you were a spinner, it was easier to make the Indian team than it was for quicks. That remained the mindset for the longest time, quite similar to Indian men's cricket.
When in your career did you see the trend shift?
Amita Sharma, Rumeli Dhar, and I played as the three front-line seamers in an XI for the best part of a decade. Noosheen [Al Khadeer] and Neetu David would be the two spinners. Sometimes Deepa Kulkarni would play as the third spinner. Rumeli would slot in as the batting allrounder, Amita and I would be the bowlers who could bat.
"It's not as though spinners don't get hit by batters, but medium-pacers have been forced to reimagine their game to make the most of their resources and skills"
That was the combination for a long time and [the change] was largely down to the gradual improvement in the quality of wickets for women's cricket, especially after the merging [of the ICC and national boards with their respective women's units].
Now spinners are back again. Players like England's Sophie Ecclestone and Australia's Jess Jonassen have been high on the ICC rankings in recent years.
In the past four-five years, we've seen spin take on a more prominent role than it had in the earlier years [of the decade]. To my mind, that's because the concept of the game has changed, primarily because of T20. The dynamism that spinners bring to an attack is indispensable. T20 has been the primary vehicle for the growth of the women's game in the last ten years or so, and the WBBL's arrival has coincided with this phase. So spin making a comeback is no surprise.
Women's teams are fitter than ever before, and power-hitting is on the rise. Have those factors neutralised some of the threat of quick bowlers, especially since not all teams have express fast bowlers?
I wouldn't agree with that entirely because a good quick bowler or medium-pacer still gets rewarded. Look at, say, [Marizanne] Kapp, [Shabnim] Ismail, [Katherine] Brunt - they are massive assets to their teams, and every opponent thinks highly of them and prepares to face the challenge they pose. But I will admit that you are right that the evolution of power in women's batting has certainly pushed medium-pacers to think smarter, bowl smarter.
Variations are the key. It's not as though spinners don't get hit by batters, but medium-pacers, I feel, have been forced to reimagine their game to make the most of their resources and skills.
Who is the best pace-bowling allrounder you've seen?
Ellyse Perry. Just before her international debut, she came to India as part of a New South Wales squad. Alyssa Healy and Erin Osborne were also in it. We played Perry during a practice game in Mysore, which we lost. I was very impressed with her action - she had a good, high-arm action - and she was quite quick.
Her progress has been phenomenal. She debuted as a bowler but went on to become a genuine allrounder who can bat excellently across formats. It's no joke to be able to do that - high-quality fast bowling opening the innings, and batting Nos. 4 and 5 consistently. Australia have an immense reputation as a cricket-playing nation and in women's cricket obviously they have been the most successful team, so the pressure is even higher. It requires a lot of discipline and good work ethic, otherwise you cannot be that consistent across all formats.
Goswami says that as medium-pacers age, their ability to manage and prevent injuries is more valuable than their athleticism
© Getty Images
Goswami says that as medium-pacers age, their ability to manage and prevent injuries is more valuable than their athleticism © Getty Images
And among Indians?
Matches barely used to be televised back when I started playing, so I have not closely followed any quick bowler before my contemporaries. Among them, Rumeli was easily the best pace-bowling allrounder to date. Her line of attack remained the same all through and she was equally consistent with her batting. She could bat at any position - opening or middle order - and she was reasonably successful too.
Rumeli, I'd say without sounding modest, was more talented than me. I was the quicker of the two but she possessed a higher level of skill than I had as a medium-pacer. I am a seamer, whereas her plus point was outswing and the late swing she would get was terrific. It's a rare skill, even among pacers today. She was very consistent for India.
Why has India struggled to find genuine quick- or medium-pace-bowling allrounders since Dhar?
If you talk about the current pool of India allrounders, Pooja Vastrakar has been batting well. Shikha [Pandey] has also contributed in patches, but it eventually boils down to two things.
The domestic cricket culture needs to change slightly. Things have improved with the BCCI's help, but we could do more. You have to back pacers more and give them more opportunities, on better surfaces, to showcase their skills and hone them. I think pushing them into a corner, where they're forced to consider switching to spin, is not ideal.
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
The second thing is, the medium-pacers themselves need to do better preparation pre-season.
Quick bowlers switching to spin - though the trend is more pronounced in domestic cricket, a number of internationals, including Shanel Daley of West Indies, England's Laura Marsh and South Africa's Chloe Tryon, switched during your career.
Look, they have all been key performers for their teams. But I believe it's not easy to be a medium-pacer. You need a lot of athleticism, and even if you have that, after a point there is bound to be a lot of wear and tear. So once you reach a certain age, your athleticism will not matter as much as your ability to manage and prevent injuries. Injuries can be really frustrating for fast bowlers.
Until, say, the last six, seven years, we didn't play as many games as we do now. So for a fast bowler to be injured and then spend a lot of time on the bench while her team-mates made the most of whatever few games the team got - it would get very frustrating, doing those monotonous rehab exercises. It's just you, your physio and trainer. So it used to be a doubly isolated world for injured women medium-pacers for the lack of playing opportunities.
After playing consecutive matches within a short period of time, your body is bound to get tired, and not everybody's body is suited to making a quick recovery. When the pace of recovery is not able to keep up with the pace of your expectations, that can mentally bog you down, and as a medium-pacer, you try looking for other options. In women's cricket the choice used to be to either improve your value to the team by becoming a handy batter or to switch to spin, which reduces the stress on your body, which can allow you to extend your career.
Can you recall any memories of waking up on a match day and feeling like your body was at loggerheads with you and your plans?
The last Test we played in England, after nearly seven years, I was very tense going into that game because I had not bowled long spells for a while. I thought I'd have a lot of soreness after the first day of bowling. But to my surprise, the following morning I was very fresh though I had bowled a lot of overs up to that point. I told myself, "Hmm. Not bad." It was only when we bowled them out and I came back after lunch on day three that I started feeling completely drained. When I removed my shoes and took a shower, the soreness kicked in.
"You have to back pacers more and give them more opportunities, on better surfaces. Pushing them into a corner, where they're forced to consider switching to spin, is not ideal"
That's the thing with your body: it's just so uncertain how it might react. Sometimes, when you have a two- or three-day gap [between matches] on certain tours, even that is not enough for your body to recuperate, and at other times only a few hours can help you recover and feel fresh and rejuvenated.
How important is pre-season preparation in the Indian women's fast bowling context?
If your pre-season is good, you will stand a chance to last the full series, otherwise you will be okay in the first one or two matches but if there are back-to-back fixtures, you will start getting tired. Your body will react in a different way, your performance will dip, and the team management will start backing spinners because they think you as a fast bowler are not up to it. This is how it has been in women's cricket in our country.
If you want to be a quality seam or swing bowler, you have to work really hard. There's no substitute for hard work. You have to be very disciplined with your training. Yes, you have to be a master of your skills, but knowing your body is very important. I cannot overemphasise this. Your performance and results on the field might go up and down but your intensity as a bowler has to remain the same.
At 39, how do you manage quick turnarounds in between matches and how have you managed it for so long?
It's trickier than you will ever know (laughs).
You have to have a very good relationship with your physio and trainer because their understanding of your body is as important as your own. They play a very important role behind the scenes, and all of my physios, trainers, masseuses have ensured that I was back on the park the next day.
Goswami has said she wants her performances to play a role in helping grow the profile of women's cricket in India. "That goal has been the biggest mentor in my life"
© ICC/Getty Images
Goswami has said she wants her performances to play a role in helping grow the profile of women's cricket in India. "That goal has been the biggest mentor in my life" © ICC/Getty Images
At the team level, too, a lot of planning goes into handling a player. Once you know what your tour itinerary will be, you have to tailor your training accordingly, which is why pre-series camps are required. It's all of the minds coming together to work out the science behind how your workload and your body need managing - like, if you are scheduling your training and practice sessions to match your body clock to the game times or at least coming close.
How different is this preparation at the domestic level?
Well, in domestic cricket in India, it is pretty much entirely the players' job, which is why so many of our young pacers leave the game early or switch to spin because there is not much guidance that they get. Our domestic set-up is not as evolved as Australia or England. Only if you individually take ownership of looking after your body do you have a chance of succeeding at the domestic level and progressing to the national level.
You may have all the information, or most of it is available on the internet or from the state association, but there is still that gap in terms of coaches, strength-and-conditioning personnel and trainers not being available to domestic players. And some states may not give you the kind of facilities like others do, so as a player, the responsibility is yours to improve your skills and your processes.
What does that involve in practical terms?
Whatever resources you have, you must be wise and diligent towards using them to the fullest. If you don't know how to use those resources, find someone who's available, because a trainer has the expertise that you don't when it comes to drawing up a training programme that suits you.
The training process involves gym training, bowling in the nets, bowling on centre wickets, target bowling, strength build-up, the drills you do on the ground - it's the structured set-up within which you function as a fast bowler. If that is not there, it can be difficult, so you have to look for ways to gather that information from a trained professional.
"I could eat one full bar of chocolate at one go. I would eat everything under the sun. So for me to be able to make that transition from being a hardcore glutton to where I'm at now has been very difficult. It's a huge personal feat"
While the internet is a great thing, if you follow everything there word for word, it can mess up your system, your body and your career. You need to know your training process - that is requisite No. 1.
When you began training, there hardly was any such assistance.
That was a universe away (laughs). When I started out, I had no idea what a training programme looked like. All my coach would say is, "Just keep running as many laps as you can" and that's what I did. I would do lap after lap at Kolkata's Vivekananda Park to get stronger in my lower body and build up my workload by bowling many balls in the nets. That's how I got fitter.
I would also like to tell youngsters that after training you must eat good food and sleep well, because if you roam around and keep scrolling on your phone, your body will not be able to cope with the rigours of training. Giving your mind and body enough time to recuperate from a day's training is critical.
And no matter what, there is no substitute to hard work. If you have dedication and honesty towards your work, you're bound to get success in some form. Initially you may not be as successful as you want to be, but gradually it is bound to come, and it might outlast the successes of others.
What changes have you made to your diet in recent years?
I have cut down on a lot of stuff. I avoid sweets and gluten, and gravy with any kind of chicken or red meat as much as possible. Most of the time I don't drink milk. I've switched to black tea, black coffee and have been off sugar. About three years ago I started eating a lot of vegetables, so it's a conscious effort to fill my meals with a lot of salads, brown rice, quinoa.
Goswami set Alyssa Healy up for a three-ball duck in Mackay with a delivery that took off the top of off stump: "If you consistently bowl in that area, it gets very difficult for the batter to navigate, because it's the most uncomfortable length"
© Albert Perez/Getty Images
Goswami set Alyssa Healy up for a three-ball duck in Mackay with a delivery that took off the top of off stump: "If you consistently bowl in that area, it gets very difficult for the batter to navigate, because it's the most uncomfortable length" © Albert Perez/Getty Images
I began making these changes after my dietician explained how my body was getting slow and recovery was taking longer. As a food-loving Bengali, adapting to the change was quite taxing, mentally in particular. I miss the quintessential Bengali luchi and tarkari, which is a Sunday staple in every middle-class Bengali household, and winter specialties like gur and gurer shondesh. Giving these favourite dishes up has been the biggest sacrifice I've made in my diet.
Did these changes come about after you retired from T20Is in August 2018?
The changes started coming in just before the 2017 ODI World Cup. I realised that if I wanted to play on a little longer, I had to be taking ownership of my body in a more responsible way. And the first step to doing that was responding to the needs of my body. The education about my body that I got from my dietician and the support staff around me helped in this process.
I used to be utterly negligent towards diet growing up and for the best part of my career. I didn't have any knowledge on the relationship between diet and performance because the women's cricket set-up was so amateur and unprofessional back then. When I was young, I used to eat two ice creams at the same time, even when I was an India player. And I could eat one full bar of chocolate at one go. And I could do that several times over. I would eat everything under the sun. So for me to be able to make that transition from being something of a hardcore glutton to where I'm at now has been very difficult. It's a huge personal feat.
Now it comes more naturally and I know what to do and the rewards that will come if I follow the process. So far, I think I've done a decent job in terms of sticking to the diet and the discipline around it. The biggest learning I've gained from my career is that your body can take you places.
Apart from coaches and support staff, have you had any mentors who guided you? The current generation of players have had you and Mithali Raj as the experienced seniors in the side, but you yourselves might not have had that guidance from above within the dressing room because you are the most senior players.
My Air India team-mates Puri di [Purnima Rau] and Anju [Jain] di helped me understand what international cricket requires, how to switch on and off, how to be a professional athlete. Those things played a big role in my career. In the latter part, yes, there was no scope for such direction from any seniors.
One thing I should mention here is, I put a lot of emphasis on self-motivation. I attach value to every game I play, thinking it could be the last match I'll ever play for India and that it doesn't matter how well I performed in the previous game or what lies ahead of me. I started playing when there was very little external motivation to play the sport and then continue with it. So something I always had in mind was that my performance should play some role, no matter how big or small, towards helping grow the profile of women's cricket in my country. That goal has been the biggest mentor in my life.
A number of your team-mates have spoken highly of your work ethic. What's at the core of it?
Our predecessors and many of my contemporaries have had to make sacrifices to shape the present and future of this sport. So being in touch with reality has fashioned a lot of my approach towards my bowling and my cricket overall. I never took playing cricket for granted, and yeah, people say, "You're playing for 20 years, it's great to see, how do you do it?" I think about these questions and just look within and the answer I get, invariably, is that my commitment and passion towards cricket never wavered or diminished, nor has it been influenced by the money that has come in [to women's cricket] over the past four-five years or the lack of it earlier.
In a country like India, there is a question mark over everything women do. To me it really matters to be able to lift the women's game in my country, and that feeling has always been inside me. It's a space occupied by nothing but you and that pure passion for your dream. There's an element of naïveté to it.
Individually I knew I could achieve a lot, but whether that individual effort was amounting to something bigger has always been at the back of my mind. My approach has been, "What happens after I leave the sport? Is my work doing anything to influence the thought process of the next generation in a positive way?" If it does, that will always be my biggest achievement. Yes, the World Cup is something I want to win, but there is a bigger picture I have never lost sight of. The work ethic that my team-mates may have spoken of is maybe just a reflection of that.
"After training you must eat good food and sleep well, because if you roam around and keep scrolling on your phone, your body will not be able to cope with the rigours of training"
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo during the 2020 T20 World Cup, Jacob Oram, who has been on the New Zealand Women coaching staff for a few years now, spoke about how variations have been a standout feature in women's pace bowling. What are the variations you have seen used most over the past two decades?
The slower one is top of the list. Cutters are widely used - both coming in and going away. They were also there before I debuted, but the frequency [of their use] has gone up and the application of the cutter has also become more informed and clinical, over the past decade specifically.
Incoming balls are very useful, especially in the shorter formats. After a certain point when a bowler doesn't get outswing, it's easy for batters to whack them because as a batter, you want to hit whatever is outside the stumps. But if you start coming in, it's quite difficult for the batter unless it's something massively wayward. I am quite big on the incoming delivery and use it quite often, because if the batter misses, the chances of a bowled or lbw are quite high. I remember reading about the usefulness of the incoming delivery in 2005-06 and started working on it, trying it out in the nets. That's how I developed it.
ESPNcricinfo is running a series where you have been voted the best exponent of the cutter. Who, apart from you, do you think bowls a good cutter?
Katherine [Brunt] is a great bowler of the cutter, and even Anya Shrubsole and Shabnim Ismail. Megan Schutt is a relatively young bowler but even she has developed a very effective cutter. Among my team-mates, Rumeli and Amita used to be very good at it.
You seem to have never quite bought into the bouncer.
I never developed it like I did some of my other deliveries because playing on Indian wickets in the early 2000s, the very thought of bowling a bouncer was like building castles in the air. My target used to be to keep my economy under three, three and a half, so if I bowled a bouncer and if it was not good, chances were it could go for wides or I'd be hit for a boundary. So the circumstances weren't favourable for me to develop the bouncer as well as, say, the Australians or English bowlers, and that's why I hardly take chances with the bouncer even now. I try to stick to wicket-to-wicket bowling.
Given how frequently and devastatingly some bowlers are using the bouncer now, do you believe this decade could be the golden age for it?
Yeah, could be. Some of the Australian bowlers were excellent with the use of the bouncer in the last multi-format series we played against them.
"To me it really matters to be able to lift the women's game in my country, and that feeling has always been inside me. It's a space occupied by nothing but you and that pure passion for your dream."
© Getty Images
"To me it really matters to be able to lift the women's game in my country, and that feeling has always been inside me. It's a space occupied by nothing but you and that pure passion for your dream." © Getty Images
You need a lot of strength to bowl an effective bouncer and bounce on the wicket is a key factor. Australian wickets have had good bounce, and in South Africa as well. Plus, the weather in general assists the pacers.
How big an asset is height in delivering the bouncer?
If you look at someone tall, like Stella Campbell, she's a different bowler to Shabnim, who is shorter and skids the ball a lot. Some of the male fast bowlers who have represented India have average male height, but they have done well because they had that skidding element. The difference facing such bowlers is, you're expecting bounce, but the ball comes on a little faster. When a bowler is delivering from a height, you will get time to adjust to play the shot, unless it is someone like a Shoaib Akhtar or a [Jasprit] Bumrah, bowling at breakneck speed. But if you don't have a higher point of release, the trajectory is going to be different, which is where the skiddiness comes into play - the trajectory is going to be lower. Shabnim's bowling action is also different and her action is one of the best in women's cricket.
What is it you like about her action?
I have not seen as smooth a run-up as Shabnim's. The run-up ensures how well your legs swing, whether they're smooth, like a cartwheel, and depending on that, you start enjoying your bowling. Her balance is beautiful. Few have a balance like that and a terrific hip drive like that. The way she is able to drag the back leg forward with the hip drive forward shows how firm the front-foot base is, and it is the hip drive that helps in a big way to increase the speed of your delivery. I enjoy watching her bowl. It's so nice.
Have you ever tweaked your run-up significantly?
I have mostly kept it the same but increased a step some three years ago. One day I just decided to try out something different to see if it made any difference to my rhythm, which I feel is an important element in any quick bowlers' process. It's similar to how swift you are with your footwork when dancing with a partner. Since making that slight change, I have felt smooth and comfortable with it, so I think it's worked well.
How do you bowl that nagging length, as you did so memorably with the Meg Lanning dismissal in the 2017 World Cup, or to Alyssa Healy during last year's Australia tour, to mention a couple of notable instances?
I try to hit the top of off stump. I think every bowler in the world practises that. If you're able to consistently bowl in that area, it gets very difficult for the batter to navigate, because it's the most uncomfortable length.
"My approach has been, 'What happens after I leave the sport? Is my work doing anything to influence the thought process of the next generation in a positive way?' If it does, that will be my biggest achievement"
What does your pre-tour preparation include?
I go through a lot of videos and try and find areas specific batters have strengths in and to avoid those areas. I try to take a lot of feedback from whomever I bowl to in the nets and my team-mates give me good feedback that I try to execute in the following nets session or on match day. Some days it works, some days it doesn't.
You've bowled with the pink, red and white balls. How different is the bowling experience between the three?
I have enjoyed bowling with the red ball the most because it's fun to maintain the red ball. It throws up a different kind of challenge, which neither the pink ball nor the white ball can do. When the red ball gets older, you try to go for reverse swing, but with the white ball, it's quite straightforward - it loses its glossiness after seven-eight overs and you have to bowl straight and batters start dominating the game, which is why they introduced two balls to give a little cushion to bowlers in ODI cricket. In red-ball cricket, I feel bowlers have so much more going their way and there's a chance to dominate after lunch.
With the pink-ball, the twilight phase is not easy to handle, because the weather conditions change, the temperature drops suddenly, a slight breeze comes into play, no matter which part of the world you're bowling in, so it offers its own set of challenges.
Which country have you enjoyed bowling in, knowing you could utilise your skills and also your height better than in other conditions?
I have always enjoyed bowling in England, and I have toured England a lot. I think a majority of my tours have been to England.
What's the next big step-up for women's fast bowling?
I think pace is going to improve and get to around 120-25-plus, and that will become a feature in most top teams. Earlier 110-115kph used to be good speed and would challenge batters, but improved fitness, understanding of biomechanics and use of better pitches will encourage bowlers to try and raise their pace. I think we will even see some bowlers touching 130kph on a frequent basis, while the standard will be between 118 and 125.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
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