Something changed that day. As Australia’s Belinda Clarke ran havoc across the length and the breadth of Eden Gardens in 1997, after having beaten New Zealand in the Women’s Cricket World Cup, a 15-year old teenager, quietly watching from the stands, remained inspired.

As the Australian team jumped in undulated joy to hold aloft the trophy, shrieking till their hearts pounded out, a young girl watched in awe. Just five years ago, she had been mesmerised by the sight of Imran Khan on the podium with the World Cup in hand in Australia on the television, but reliving that moment in front of her eyes, made her determined. It had to be the way ahead. She was sure, very, very sure.

The 80 kilometre journey back to Chakdaha was replete with doubts of a different kind. Now that her passion had been stirred up, would her parents give in? Even if they did, would the remote village in the Nadia district of West Bengal accept her “non-girly” career choice or would they tease her for going down a path no other girl from the village had gone before? But more importantly, did she really think that a career in cricket in India was possible? For a young lad inspiring to ape Sachin Tendulkar’s heroics, the hurdles were far lesser but for her, without an idol, the journey would be tougher. Much, much tougher.

True to belief, she was attacked. She was advised to finish her studies, which would then help find her find a prospective groom. Do the household chores. Be woman-like. Aspire for a future that was achievable and tangible.

But that is the funny thing about grit, isn’t it? The moment a fire starts burning within the soul, words from everyone around starts falling on deaf ears. The rebellious instinct catapults and the longing to be the best in the unconventional come gushing forth. As Jhulan Goswami arose every day at 4:30 am to take the local train to Sealdah station in Kolkata, towards Vivekananda Park, she hardly knew what lay ahead but she did know that in the process, she would be willing to sacrifice all that it warranted.

Perhaps her first stint of her skills came to the fore when the 5 feet 11 inches bowler turned out for the Bengal Under-19 team against the Maharashtra team in the Junior Nationals. Even though news of the lanky bowler’s potential had reached the opposition camp, very few were aware of the damage that the frail looking player could cause. Maharastra, the overwhelming favourites were supposed to have it easy but by the end of the match, Goswami’s name soon toppled the selection charts.

Needing just two runs to win in last over of the 40-over game, the Bengal pacer troubled Mayuri Chavan with her immaculate pace and accuracy to bowl a maiden over, guiding her team to an improbable victory, but more importantly fast-forwarding her entry into the national team.

The mission had been accomplished. The critics had been proved wrong. More importantly, her self-belief that trumped and as Goswami got ready to bowl her maiden delivery against the England team in Chennai in the first month of 2002, the immediate goal was just to concentrate on the game at hand. Ending the game with 2 wickets in 7 overs in no way tarnished her image and from there on the pacer just moved from strength to strength.

Accolades came pouring in, and so did the awards. The rankings chased her and so did consistency. Within five years of her debut, Goswami had already written her fairy-tale in Indian Cricket’s history but now it was time to push further and further on. She was the number 1 bowler in the world and also the recipient of the ICC Women’s Player of the Year in 2007. She had already synced her name with women’s cricket in India but the road ahead towards making a mark in world cricket was yet to be achieved.

Once chastised for her slow-bowling, the Bengali became the fastest bowler in the world. Once doubted for her ability to guide the team to victories, Goswami became the pace-bowling leader and soon the Captain of the country. Often schooled for her nonchalant attitude in her initial days, the maverick soon touched the gym with innate frequency, so much so that the first advice that she imparts to younger fast bowlers today is to train harder with every passing day.

Injuries came her way, but it too was shrugged aside. There were phases when she was unable to generate as much swing due to a faulty action, which disallowed her to cut the ball. Under the guidance of Balwinder Singh Sandhu, she worked on her wrist positions, ensuring that the finger was always behind the ball and that the action, the balance and the line and length all flowed out smoothly. Even though she is not able to notch up a pace of 120 kmph anymore, the opponents are now troubled by her lethal off-cutters and the deadly yorkers, which are bowled after shrewdly analysing the match situation.

But more than her bowling genius, what has stood out is her mental stamina to survive in a segment of a sport that is often cast aside into the oblivion. Most of her wickets have come in on empty stands and sans broadcast. Most will be unable to even reveal what records stand against her name. But Goswami hardly cares. Her biggest joy arrives in the ability to score the runs or pick up the wickets for the team’s success.

Hence it was hardly surprising that her team-mates exulted even louder than she did when she captured Raisibe Ntozakhe plumb in front in the 36th over of the South African innings in May 2017. As she went up in appeal, even before she knew it, the team had bombarded her. Shrieking and shouting in joy at the 181st wicket that had been captured. The number of wickets no one had ever achieved before. A terrain no one had stepped on ever.

After dishing in crucial performances in the knock-out stages of the World Cup last year, she returned to the small town of Kimberley with yet another record beckoning. And as usual, the over-enthusiastic teammates remained more excited than the 36-year old, who has made it a common habit to shy away from explicit portrayal of emotions on the cricket field.

As she readied herself to bowl in the second ODI against South Africa, all that swivelled around was that she had to bowl the team to a win. When she saw Laura Wolvaardt confused and befuddled at her deliveries, she chipped a ball back into the batter, who edged it to Sushma Verma. And like before, even before she knew it, her team-mates had once again swamped upon her. But little did she complain. It is not often that a bowler, brought up in the dusty by-lanes of spin friendly pitches makes a mark in the sphere of fast bowling in the cricketing world.

It is not often that a young girl who dared to defy all odds becomes the first cricketer to score 1000 runs and take 200 wickets in ODI cricket. Not often does passion drive a being to such an extent that she bamboozles the English players with 5-wicket hauls in Taunton. Very rarely will someone achieve 290 wickets in 236 international games for India and still carry on after 16 years at the helm, in a sport that hardly was once considered a career.

“Gozzy”, Goswami or our just Jhulu-di epitomises an aspect of sport that hardly gets written about. She symbolises that being who knew that the road ahead was bouldered with unpredictable obstacles, but she has shown that just by adorning confidence and belief, the path of stamping a legacy becomes a worthwhile one indeed.