© Getty Images

I honestly do a lot of target bowling even now. It is an important thing for me because as a bowler, you have to hit the right areas consistently. I try to hit the same length and try to get lateral movement. © Getty Images

When Jhulan Goswami dismissed Raisibe Ntozakhe during India Women’s game against South Africa Women in the quadrangular series at North-West University No. 1 Ground in Potchefstroom on Tuesday (May 9), she became the highest wicket-taker in the history of Women’s One-Day Internationals.

Goswami, who made her ODI debut in January 2002, now has 181 wickets in 153 matches, surpassing Australia’s Cathryn Fitzpatrick, who held the record for more than a decade. Goswami had spoken at length about fast bowling and her career to Wisden India before leaving for South Africa. Excerpts:

Fitzpatrick on Goswami breaking her record
“I never thought of all this when I started playing. When you play, you just want to play for your country and not think how your stats might look like. I remember her as a young girl. Whenever we meet, I have a chat with her. She is a real pleasing girl. When I think of her, I don’t think of her as a cricketer first. It’s going to be good for her. It’s nice for me, but doesn’t mean anything in terms of recognition. But Jhulan breaking it is a big deal for women’s cricket in India. It might even get me more attention. People who did not know I was No. 1 will know that now I am No. 2. I am not sad or anything like that. I might come out and put on the PNG jersey (whom she coached at the Qualifiers in Colombo) and get a few wickets. It’s well deserved for her, and I don’t think anyone will catch up with her.”

How do you define an ideal pace bowler?
As a pace bowler, particularly now, you have to have a big heart, accept the challenge and enjoy your game because cricket has changed with the advent of the Twenty20 format. It has become a batter-oriented game, and there are more challenges for bowlers. The margin of error is so less and you are restricted by laws and guidelines, so each and every ball offers a lot of challenges. You can say a batter can get out in one ball and cannot come back in that match, that is the only advantage the bowlers have. They can get hit and still have a chance in the next over to come back and get a wicket.

Also, you need to have the desire to bowl fast and quick. As a pace bowler, there will be a lot of ups and downs and injuries, but if you know what your exact role is and how to develop your skills, how to take care of your body, when to load and when to offload your body, and are surrounded by a good pair of physio and trainer, then it becomes easy. But you have to put in a lot of effort because every day is hard work. You might bowl well throughout the match but not get wickets, and people will criticise you. But as a fast bowler, you have to believe in yourself and you have to assess what and how you are going to do. You have to accept things or else it will disturb you.

How have you maintained the desire for 15 years now at the highest level?
As a person, I love challenges. If you give me an easy task, I might not concentrate hard. But if you give me a challenging task, then I will concentrate hard and come back strongly.

When I started my career, one-day cricket was played in the old format where you had field restrictions for the first 15 overs, and four fielders had to in the ring for the remaining overs. From 2007-08, the one-day format has changed. A lot of changes in laws; batting Power Play, bowling Power Play, fielders outside the ring — there are challenges. I have to be consistent in my line and length. If my line and length is good, then definitely I can restrict the batters. I try to hit bat hard. If you are able to improve your skills – hitting the seam, swing – you have to be clever.

I honestly do a lot of target bowling even now. It is an important thing for me because as a bowler, you have to hit the right areas consistently. I try to hit the same length and try to get lateral movement.

“My mind is mostly blank. I don’t watch a lot of videos of my bowling these days. I just see some basic stuff and leave it at that because nobody is perfect in this world. If you are aiming for perfection, then you might forget other things. But yes, the basics have to be right and then the other bits you can adjust.” © Getty Images

When you started out, you were known for your pace. But now you have matured in the way you bowl. How did this change come about?
When I started, I was raw. I didn’t know anything about bowling – just come and try to bowl fast. Later on, I got to know it was not about just bowling at good pace, but good discipline is also required. If you are a good disciplined bowler and have decent pace, you will be able to counter the opposition. Bowling at good pace is important, but bowling in the right corridor is even more important. I try to mix the two.

Do you get a feeling on the morning of a match if the day is going to be a good or a bad one?
It is all about how the body is reacting. As a pace bowler, when you bowl long, there is going to be tiredness, fatigue and niggles, and that is why a good physio and trainer are important. They will assess, help you release the muscle and the next day, you will be fresh. That’s why I am thankful to all my trainers and physios. For me, I get to know in the morning before the warm-up session because my body reacts in certain ways that gives me an idea that I will be in good rhythm, which is important for a fast bowler. It will allow you to know what to expect of yourself on the field.

“As a person, I love challenges. If you give me an easy task, I might not concentrate hard. But if you give me a challenging task, then I will concentrate hard and come back strongly.”

What happens on days when you don’t have a good feeling?
I can’t exactly say about my rhythm when I wake up, but when we play on back-to-back days, I know my body is not fresh. I talk to my physio and trainer and they try different stuff. I cannot say, ‘My body is not feeling good, I can’t play.’ If I have to play, I will play and perform. Before the training session, I discuss with my physio and trainer specifics like hamstring, back or shoulder and they release the stiffness with exercise and warm-up. They allow me time to get back the same momentum as the previous match.

When did you really start understanding your bowling and your body?
I would say between 2003 and 2004, which is quite early in my career, because I have had some quality coaches. I do follow a lot of men’s cricket. I worked with a few people who helped me a lot during that time. I learnt to analyse my bowling over a period of time but during that phase, I was able to understand 80% of my body.

How many times have you broken down your bowling to bare basics and rebuilt from scratch?
Many times, because when you start your career, you just bowl to take wickets. But later on, the body changes, different muscles grow, biologically you change, so you adapt accordingly.

I changed certain things after I won the ICC award (for Women’s Player of the Year in 2007). There were certain issues. I got back to zero. The Bengal camp was underway, and I talked to Bharat Arun sir, who was then the coach of the Ranji Trophy team. Also, I made certain technical changes with TA Sekhar sir at the MRF Pace Foundation in 2004. Then in 2006, I made some more technical adjustments.


Can you elaborate on the nature of work with Arun?
Someone introduced him as one of India’s best bowling coaches. He analysed my bowling and told me what changes I needed to make. I remember I didn’t bowl for 20-25 days, was just doing drills to get back my muscle memory. It is not easy. If you don’t bowl for 25 days and then think you will bowl perfect immediately, it is not going to happen.

I must tell you that changing your action is the toughest thing. People analyse your past performances, they don’t know that you have gone through a lot of changes. They will compare your present performance with past performances and criticise you, saying you are not performing and taking wickets. You were good previously, your pace has dropped, you don’t have movement off the surface and you don’t give us breakthroughs anymore. That is a very crucial phase. You have to understand what processes you are going through, and you have to trust your processes. You will know that for the time being you will not perform, but in the longer duration that will help you. Those are a few things where Arun sir helped me.

I can’t say that I have changed 100%, but out of 10, I have taken 2-3 points on board. I knew I had to change because my body was changing, there was muscle growth. Accordingly, I had to change. It’s run-up, running technique. You have to run smooth and be on the same path, your non-bowling arm, follow-through, everything. These are small things that you have to change but it takes a lot of time and you have to repeatedly do the drills; maybe 100 to 300 times in a day. It is very boring. You don’t enjoy standing there and practicing because you don’t know if, when you start bowling you, will get back the same kind of feeling that you want on the first day or the second day. If you change your muscle memory, you need to repeat more than 10,000 times to make it a part of your system. It is not easy, but you have to take a call, make those changes for your betterment. You cannot start and end in the same way. Some changes, you won’t even know they have happened. It is easy for a wrong thing to come into your system and you won’t know. Suddenly one day, you will see that something is different.

Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami © Wisden India

“I am lucky to have Mithali in my team. Sometimes, she hits good balls for a four. Bowling to Mithali in the nets is a good challenge for me.” © Wisden India

When you were at your peak, the women’s calendar was not as filled as it is now. How difficult was it for you to restart almost every third month?
When you have a goal in front of you, it is easy to prepare mentally and physically. I could not let myself and my team down with my performance. That’s how I kept myself going. That means you cannot stop your regular basic training because you know anytime, there might be a series. So, you have to be prepared for that.

As an individual, you had to prepare and give your best assuming that you are playing against the best team. Whoever comes, your preparation should be the best. In earlier days, I used to do that. We knew we would anyway play in six to seven months’ time. So at nets, I would try to visualise bowling to Belinda Clark or Karen Rolton or some other Aussie girl. Which area I am going to bowl, which areas are they strong in. I had to try to analyse and react. I used to plan my nets session in such a way that I could implement certain things. I knew that whenever I was going to play – today, tomorrow or after six months – I was going to face them. They are ruthless cricketers who will not be easy to bowl at. I had to work out ways to counter them. If I did not know something, I used to discuss with Purnima (Rau), Anju (Jain), Anjum (Chopra) to get clues. They were the seniors when I was starting out. I used to ask them about the Australian and New Zealand girls, their strengths, how to counter them.

”When you start your career, you just bowl to take wickets. But later on, the body changes, different muscles grow, biologically you change, so you adapt accordingly.”

Is this technique of simulation training early in your career bringing you rewards now?
Definitely. Now when you know your calendar in advance, you also know what to expect. I will prepare specifically for those conditions. From outside, you might think I am not bowling in the right area in the nets, but that’s not the case. It’s preparation for the series in South Africa. If I consistently bowl 100 balls in a net session, then I can implement them in the match properly. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but preparation helps you in that.

How do you decide what ball to bowl to which batter when you are at the top of your run-up?
First of all, we would have made plans based on the batter’s strengths and weaknesses. I just try to bowl the right area, which is three-quarter length of the pitch, and try to get some lateral movement. I try to hit the seam. I don’t think much, but definitely I see the batsman’s foot and bat movement. The wicketkeeper and the slip fielder help me in that, and I also get an idea. If a batsman’s feet are not moving or if she is playing off the back foot, then you adjust accordingly. My strength is that I keep it very simple. If I start complicating things, then my focus will not be there. My job is to bowl in the right areas and have more dot balls to put pressure and then wickets will come.

My mind is mostly blank. I don’t watch a lot of videos of my bowling these days. I just see some basic stuff and leave it at that because nobody is perfect in this world. If you are aiming for perfection, then you might forget other things. But yes, the basics have to be right and then the other bits you can adjust.

Also read: Raj and Goswami – two to tango

One of the issues is that you haven’t had a regular pace bowling partner in recent years. How much does it affect you?
That was one area that, after Amita (Sharma) and Rumeli (Dhar), was an issue. They gave me good support. The best thing about bowling with Rumeli and Amita was we used to bowl in partnerships. If I was bowling dot balls, then they used to take wickets and vice-versa. Creating pressure was fun with them. Then (N) Niranjana came, and now Shikha (Pandey) is doing well. You have to give them some time to settle down because playing domestic cricket is different from international cricket. How you adapt to the changes and handle pressure is going to be the difference. Shikha has been promising; if you give her the time and space, she will definitely turn into a good allrounder.

“I watch McGrath’s videos regularly. He is a bowling machine who can bowl in the same areas with the same bounce throughout the day. That’s how it should be.” © Getty Images

Which is your best ODI bowling performance?
The one match I still remember is against Australia in Sydney in 2008. I bowled four maidens in ten overs and conceded 16 runs (35, actually). Then, the one in Adelaide in 2006 where I had figures of 9-5-6-3. We lost the two games but I enjoyed the way I bowled in those matches. Unfortunately, we were not able to celebrate. Then there is a game against England in Guwahati long time ago (in 2005). They got out very cheaply, my bowling analysis was 8-2-31-0. We won that match.

Which batters have been the most difficult to bowl to?
Rebecca Rolls from New Zealand. I was scared to bowl to her. If I bowled up, she used to hit me through the line and if I bowled short, then she used to cut or pull me. She was one batter I really struggled to bowl to. I used to keep thinking what length to bowl to her to get her out.

“Glenn McGrath is a bowling machine who can bowl in the same areas with the same bounce throughout the day. That’s how it should be.”

I am lucky to have Mithali (Raj) in my team. She is also a difficult batter to bowl to because she is a sweet timer of the ball and finds the gaps easily. Sometimes, she hits good balls for a four. Bowling to Mithali in the nets is a good challenge for me. Whenever we face each other (in domestic games), there is a tussle going on. We don’t say anything to each other openly, but I can feel the tussle. I want to get her out and she doesn’t want to get out to me. That tussle I enjoy. That’s how it should be.

Karen Rolton, sometimes it was easy to bowl to her with the new ball but she used to hit the old ball all over the place. You had to use your brain or else she had the power to whack you and clear the boundary.

Has any batter ever come up to you and told you that you are difficult to play?
They haven’t said they can’t play but plenty of them have come (and complimented my bowling). Charlotte Edwards came and told me in 2006 that I was her nightmare. ‘Every time you came, you got me out, both in defence and while playing shots’. On that 2006 tour where she scored a century, she got out to me most times, and also in other tournaments too. But we had a good relationship on and off the field, so she would not mind appreciating me and saying I was unplayable on certain days. Nowadays, no one openly admits their weaknesses, that’s not the way anymore.

Who would be your dream bowling partner?
Glenn McGrath. I watch his videos regularly. He is a bowling machine who can bowl in the same areas with the same bounce throughout the day. That’s how it should be. Obviously, there is Wasim Akram, the king of swing, and other legendary bowlers, but Glenn McGrath was so consistent. He won matches for Australia…People talk about Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne, but you cannot underestimate him. I just like him. Wherever it is, even bowling in India, he got the same bounce, maintained the same line and length. It’s not easy to hit him. I met him in 2009 and discussed a few things with him.

McGrath says he remembers all his dismissals. Do you remember every wicket you have taken?
I can’t compare myself with a legend like him, but most of the wickets I do remember, which area I bowled in to get that wicket.

”If you change your muscle memory, you need to repeat more than 10,000 times to make it a part of your system. It is not easy, but you have to take a call, make those changes for your betterment.”

Have you discussed your bowling with any member of the Indian men’s team?
I have spoken a few times to Venkatesh Prasad. Sri (Javagal Srinath) bhai is always helpful. At NCA, I have spoken to Zaheer (Khan) bhai. I discuss my bowling with Mohammed Shami these days. We share our thoughts and I take inputs from him on how I can get better. They are all very nice people and always helpful.

For a long time, you were considered the fastest bowler in women’s cricket. Did you ever measure your pace?
No. During the Australia tour last year, I got a text from Amita from India that I bowled 120 kmph plus. I was like, ‘Really?’

Who are some of the fast bowlers from outside India who have impressed you recently?
Katherine Brunt is a very good bowler. She is good friend of mine. Fitzy (Fitzpatrick) used to be good. When I first played international cricket, she was the star of fast bowling and people used to get scared to face her. I thought if you play cricket, play like her, play like a champion. I admired her. Ellyse Perry is good, (Lea) Tahuhu is good. But I like Brunt. She is compact and bowls well on all kind of wickets. She did well on flat wickets in India too. Very positive girl, and never gives up.

(With inputs from Karunya Keshav)