The comeback woman of the Indian cricket team is a perfect all-rounder, who not only hits a bull’s eye with her medium pace but also is a stylish top-order bat. Her fielding is nothing less than electric. With several match-winning performances in her kitty during the 2005 Women’s World Cup in which India marched on to play their first-ever finals, there is seldom any doubt that she has been an inspiration to the upcoming and budding women cricketers.
We are talking about Rumeli Dhar, who recently graced the Female Cricket Podcast during which Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the talented all-rounder.
Excerpts from the Podcast
1. Where were you doing the lockdown?
From the start of the lockdown, I was stuck in Kolkata. I was there for three months. Finally, I came back home in Delhi on June 12.
2. Take us through your early days in cricket. Where did it all start for you?
I was born and brought up in Kolkata. Right from my childhood days, I enjoyed playing cricket. I used to play with my cousins and their friends. Strangely, though I played cricket, I couldn’t bat or bowl (smiles). I always fielded and I used to get picked up in the team for my fielding. Gradually my uncle who identified the cricketing talent in me encouraged me to play the game at a professional level.
My uncle was my first coach and in his academy, I used to be the only girl among 80-100 odd boys.
During those days when wearing jeans for girls was frowned upon, I somehow managed to play the sport. Prior to becoming a full-time cricketer, I represented junior states in gymnastics and also played volleyball at the school national level. It was in 1996 when I first played with a leather ball. Cricket being an expensive sport back, my family, which had a humble financial background were skeptical to let me play the game. My uncle convinced my mother, and I was allowed to pursue my passion. My uncle supported me financially and some of the senior boys with whom I played lent me the cricket accessories.
In 1998 I was picked up to play for West Bengal U-19. After representing the state, I played for East zone and from there I was selected in the India camp. For the World Cup in 2000, in 1999 we had an India camp and I was a part of that, courtesy my stellar domestic performance.
3. Before playing for India, you played for Air India for three years. Tell us about that experience.
In 1999 when I was picked up for India I was selected as a bowler and a pinch hitter. But the day I joined Air India, things started changing for me, of course for good. My fellow teammates like Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain, and Purnima Rao helped me to become more than a handy all-rounder. Those three years redefined me as a cricketer and played a pivotal role in converting me into a good all-rounder.
4. You made your India debut in 2003. How did you react to the news?
After playing for Air India for three years, I made my India debut in 2003. I was very excited to sport the Indian colors and play for my country. My entire family was very happy and my mother’s joy knew no bounds as I had fulfilled her dream of seeing her daughter play for India.
I made my ODI debut against England in New Zealand and I still have with me my very first India jersey. That particular ground where I played my first ever international match was a big one and the conditions were windy. I had a good match with both, bat and ball, as I got the opportunity to hit the winning runs and I bowled an economical spell giving away just 10 runs in six overs, including three maidens.
5. After making you India debut you were dropped, but you made a strong comeback in 2005 when you were picked up for India squad for World Cup in South Africa. Did you expect that?
After the six matches that I played in 2003, I was dropped from the India side. Two years later, I made a powerful comeback as I was selected in the India squad that was traveling to South Africa for the World Cup. Though I played some good domestic cricket, trained hard, and worked on my fitness, honestly I did not expect the call, but within I was strongly hoping that I get a chance to play for India again.
6. In the third match of the 2005 World Cup, you top-scored for India and steered the team home. Tell us about that innings of yours.
In the first two matches, I did not get a chance to bat. In the third match when we played against South Africa, we were chasing a modest target of 81. Though the target was small, we lost wickets in quick succession. It was 37-4 when I came in to bat. As I walking out to bat I was telling myself that I have to make the most of this opportunity and help my team win. In that match, I scored an unbeaten 33 and guided India to a four-wicket win. That match was like a turning point in my life. I started growing in confidence and I believed that I could do something for India.
7. That very year India women reached the World Cup for the first time. How was the feeling in the team?
After a good performance throughout the World Cup, we reached the finals. The day when the World Cup squad was picked, we kept on telling each other that we have to reach the finals. We motivated each other and finally, there we were playing the finals. It was my first World Cup as well as my first final. We were up against Australia. There was a lot of excitement in the dressing room and the girls were rearing to have a go.
That day when the national anthem was played, I was further pepped up to do good for my country.
Unfortunately, the Aussies had the better of us in the finals. After the match, everybody cried. Maybe we could handle the pressure or control our nerves that day.
8. In 2006 BCCI took over women’s cricket. How has the change been?
BCCI’s takeover of women’s cricket has come as a big boost. We have now got sponsors for the game, media coverage, among many things. Apart from this, there is financial security and financial stability. Initially, if the girls were in dilemma to play cricket or not now with BCCI on board, without any second thoughts, the girls would choose to play the game.
9. You played your first T20I which was also India’s first T20I in 2006. How did you feel about playing a different format?
Before that, I had never played T20 cricket. In that match, I also opened the batting which I had never done before. I usually batted at no. 5, but in that match, I was asked to open. I scored an unbeaten 66 off 69 balls and it was an amazing feeling. Though opening the batting initially seemed to be a challenge I decided to take it in my stride and capitalize on the opportunity that I was given. Thankfully it was executed well. In that very match, I opened the bowling too.
10. You have also featured in Test matches which are hardly played now in women’s cricket. Can you tell us how important is Test cricket?
I feel Test cricket is very important in the all-round development of a cricketer. Your patience and your technique are tested in the longest format of the game. I wish more Test matches were played in women’s cricket.
11. After playing for India for six years on the trot, you were dropped from the side in 2012 due to shoulder injury. In 2018 you made comeback after six years. Take us through those six years.
I was dropped from the Indian side in 2012 due to shoulder injury. It was a major setback for me. I had no idea about my future prospects and whether I would be able to make a comeback. I went back to playing domestic cricket. I played for Assam, Rajasthan, and Delhi for two years each. While playing for the state, I tremendously missed playing for India.
My family and friends were of great support to me during those six years. After the patient wait, I got a call to represent India and I was supposed to play my comeback match on the same ground in South Africa where we played the World Cup finals in 2005. It was as if coming a full circle. The match was washed out but I remember Mithali and me clicking a picture there and I have it still as a pleasant memory.
12. How important is mental health for cricketers?
Mental health is of paramount importance not only to cricketers but also to every individual. As a cricketer, you need to have a steady focus. It is also essential that you work on how you see yourself in the future. In case of any problems, you should not hesitate to discuss with your family, friends, or closed ones. These discussions could actually help you in arriving at better decisions. Always believe in yourself and never ever give up.
13. What is your next goal?
I would like to continue playing cricket at the professional level as long as I am fit. Also, I would definitely like to play for India again (smiles) and once I hang up my boots from playing I would like to be a coach.
To listen to the complete podcast, click on the following links:
Listen on Google Podcast, click here
Listen on Spotify, click here
Listen on Apple Podcast, Click here
This article was transcribed by Juili Ballal.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.