In one veteran’s injury, a door opened for another.
When Jhulan Goswami missed the third and final ODI of the ICC Women’s Championship series against South Africa, little would we have known that her heel injury would be serious enough to put Rumeli Dhar on a flight to South Africa.
She made her comeback after over six years and got the new ball. Her first over back, the first three balls were on the money, good line and length. But then she bowled a chest high no ball, was taken for a free hit and she lost her rhythm. But the guile was there to see, rolling the fingers over the ball and getting it in the right places.
She finished with figures of 0/22 in three overs, but her most telling contribution was the two sharp catches – at mid off and square leg.
World Cup final, version 1.0
The attention today on women’s cricket – in India and globally – is predominantly due to the success of ICC Women’s World Cup in 2017. India’s run to the final brought the attention on women’s cricket like never before.
Incidentally, Dhar’s return to action one month short of six years came at the venue where she played the World Cup final in 2005 - the first time Mithali Raj led Team India played on the biggest occasion in women’s cricket, 12 years before they could repeat the feat at Lord’s.
Dhar was India’s third highest run-getter in that tournament behind Raj herself and Anjum Chopra, playing all eight matches.
A memorable T20I debut
In India’s first ever T20 international – men or women – Dhar was the player of the match. After a wicket-less two over spell against the more-fancied English side in Derby in 2006, Dhar played a memorable innings while opening the batting – making an unbeaten 69-ball 66 – to walk away with the player of the match award.
Struggles with injury and playing for Rajasthan, Assam
A shoulder injury in 2012 meant she wouldn’t play for India till 2018, but worse news in the short term was that she would not play for the successful Railways side as well, after a fallout.
“Honestly, I had reached a point where I was living, but there was no life in me. (After my last two matches against Australia) nobody asked about me,” Dhar was quoted as saying by Wisden India. “I had a major injury after that…It had come to a point where Rumeli Dhar was nowhere,” she reveals. “I was depressed and I didn’t know what was happening.”
Once recuperated, Dhar moved to Rajasthan where she became the captain of what she described as a young side where many struggled to do the basics right, but she persisted for three seasons. And then she moved to Assam for the 2015-16 season.
After spending some tough years with Rajasthan and Assam fate would so have that Dhar will turn up for the city where she has resided for more than a decade. And it is this stint, playing with and against the best in the domestic circuit, that has been the catalyst for her comeback to the national side. She was a crucial part of Delhi’s side that lifted the domestic T20 title this year, topping the group in the Super League stage.
“Rumeli coming in was a plus point because of her experience,” Delhi captain Reema Malhotra told Wisden India. “As an all-rounder, she added depth to our bowling and also batted at No.3, which meant our batting went deep. That allowed us to get the right combination. She played a match-winning role.”
In particular, the spell that seems to have spurred the recall is the one a couple of days after India’s squad for the T20Is was announced. Playing against Maharashtra in Mumbai, Dhar bowled a remarkable spell of swing bowling to take four wickets for just 14 runs.
As fate would have it, her long-time friend Goswami’s injury would make Dhar’s dream of donning India’s blue come true again.
Dhar made her debut for India in 2003 against England at Lincoln. She has played 4 Tests, 78 ODIs and 16 T20Is.
Apart from the starring role she played in India’s memorable T20I win, Dhar was also the player of the tournament in Asia Cup in 2008. She would also play a starring role in the 2009 World Cup third place playoff against hosts Australia, picking up two wickets and hitting a nerveless, unbeaten 24 in Goswami’s company to clinch a place on the podium for India.
An inspirational comeback
“In fact, you won’t find many a girl as determined as Rumeli. Even when she has had minor [shoulder and knee] injuries along the way, she worked diligently with her physio and overcame all of that. I think it is her stubbornness that’s kept her going all these years,” her father Anup Dhar told ESPNcricinfo.
Ananya Upendran, the Hyderabad pacer, put it best on Twitter: “Rumeli Dhar’s return is inspirational on so many levels, but I think the biggest and most important impact is likely to be the hope it will give a lot of senior players within the domestic circuit. It will mean they stick around for longer.”
Social media buzz
Plenty of well-wishers of women’s cricket couldn’t stop cheering for Dhar on her return
It remains to be seen if Dhar will continue to figure in India’s plans once Goswami returns to full fitness but it is fair to say that by not giving up on her dream to play for India again, Dhar has set an example for many a woman to follow.