That Ball. The one that's not exactly on a good length. Not the length of a swing bowler (that gets the batter to drive on the up). Shorter. But not short either. That ball can't be played on the back foot, even though it hits high on the bat, above the middle. It's that elusive (for bowlers), annoying (for batters) three-quarter length, on off-stump, heading for the top of off. Remember the Meg Lanning dismissal in 2017? That Ball. That Ball is where Jhulan Goswami lived.
With That Ball, Goswami paid the bills. With That Ball, she made her name. With That Ball, Goswami dragged Indian women's cricket from the dark ages into the bright lights this team deserves. Just by bowling that ball, over and over, for 20 years.
Think about it. Goswami is tall and fast but isn't known for bowling bouncers. She had a slower ball in her armoury, but it was never a weapon for her. She bowled the odd yorker, but she's known for bowling That Ball, fast, at the stumps, and not much else.
You might call that limited. You might even go so far as to say she was unable or unwilling to learn new skills. You might say she was resisting change, resisting evolution. But for 20 years, That Ball, delivered by her high arm action, accentuated by her six-foot frame, worked. Multiple generations of the world's best batters couldn't find an answer to it. When she bowled it there, they had to defend. And so she kept bowling it there.
That ball was made more dangerous by that movement off the pitch, created by the natural variation in her seam. She's never had a perfectly upright seam, or the ability to tilt the seam either way at will. She just kept bowling That Ball, seam up, with the odd ball wobbling, and the seam did the rest. The ball would move, often she didn't know which way, and the batter certainly didn't know. From that length, at that speed, That Ball with seam movement is unplayable. 191 of her 253 wickets are bowled, LBW, or caught behind.
That ball worked off the pitch too. It inspired so many, across generations and borders. That Ball inspired me. I watched on TV as a 19-year old Goswami made her India debut, and the 16-year old me could not move. Then I could not sit still. I ran up and down the passageway of our home, tennis ball in hand, banging it on the wall, trying to bowl that ball. I imagined Jhulu di doing the same at the other end. I was lucky enough to fulfil those dreams.
That Ball tells us a lot about Goswami. Her discipline shines through in how she has dedicated herself to perfecting that simple skill. Remember the little rock hammer Andy Dufresne had in Shawshank Redemption? He used that simple tool, over 19 years, to craft his escape. Like Goswami has used That Ball crafting her legacy.
That Ball shows off her work ethic. She always had the stomach to do the boring things over and over. Her resistance to using the bouncer and other variations tell us about her stubborn streak. But also, her common sense. If that ball keeps getting her wickets, why waver? A clarity of thought and action that fits well with the honesty she shows to her craft. An awareness that good things will come if she stays firmly in that one moment and does that one thing.
That ball has earned her the respect of teammates and opponents alike. She has always had time for the new kid, always generous with her advice and presence. The oldest of three siblings, Goswami slid easily into the older sister role in the Indian team too. It was a role I benefited from. I remember rooming with her, two sets of long legs on twin beds that were just about big enough for us. She made roommates feel at home, her personality said the words "Be welcome" without ever saying them. The hand around the shoulder was never far away. I remember her being among the few who would check in on me when I was sidelined from the Indian team with injury, and later a suspect action. They say never meet your heroes. Goswami fans will disagree.
Two Goswami memories haunt me: Seeing her after the 2017 World Cup final, and after India failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup semi-finals. In the former, she was a star, with figures of 10-3-23-3. In the latter, she was a spectator, ruled out by injury. Winning a World Cup has remained Goswami's white whale, one that fuelled her, but one she will no longer pursue. That baton is handed to the next generation, and when they win a World Cup, that is when Goswami's itch will subside as she rises to cheer them.
But her legacy as an inspiration, across genders, across Indian sport, is secure. A once-in-a-generation athlete, coachable but needing no coaching, whose natural action served her more than 20 years at the international level. Years from now, we will be talking about how she became the undisputed queen of women's bowling. How she rose to the top of this game, with That Ball.
Author: Snehal Pradhan (Former India international)