It’s been over 17 years, but Rumeli Dhar still remembers the day with perceptible fondness. The run of the Indian women’s team to the final of the 2005 World Cup in South Africa remains the most enduring memory of her 19-year international career that came to a close with an Instagram post on Wednesday. And with it, ended an era in Indian women’s cricket that had, not long back, witnessed the retirement of its perennial stalwart Mithali Raj.
“It is a very emotional moment for me, very tough to put it to words,” Dhar, 38, said. “It’s been a very long journey for me, but perhaps the most enduring memory will be playing the 2005 World Cup final. It was an epochal moment in India’s women’s cricket.”
Led by Mithali Raj, India went on a six-match unbeaten run — including a rained-out match against Sri Lanka — before being tamed by Belinda Clark’s Australia in the final. The same year, the then International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) merged with the International Cricket Council (ICC), with the latter directing all member associations to develop their women’s wing. A year later, BCCI took control of the women’s game — a move, Dhar believes, was spurred by India’s dream run at the World Cup.
“That (2005 World Cup) was a big moment in my career as it led BCCI to take over women’s cricket. Things began to change thereafter,” she said.
“When I started playing cricket, the conditions of grounds, the quantity and quality of equipment, the exposure, everything was sub-par. But we never let all those limitations tie us down. We could have sat and sulked, but we thought it was better to work towards getting things better. We were happy with what we had. Change actually began in 2001 when we first got trainers and physios. Then, post-2003, we started having month-long fitness camps, which started reflecting on our performances. After the BCCI takeover, a lot of things began to improve. I wouldn’t say women’s cricket is in a perfect place right now, but as long as we are moving in the right direction, I’ll be happy.”
“I am happy that people’s attitude towards women’s cricket is changing. Sometimes, change takes time, and that’s alright.”
Dhar also picked her comeback to the national side after a six-year hiatus in 2018 as another significant flagpost in her journey. She lost her place in the side in 2012 due to a shoulder injury but soon fell off radar, although she continued to ply her trade in domestic cricket, first for Rajasthan, followed by Assam, and Delhi. Around the same time, she slipped into depression and contemplated quitting the game.
“I came very close to walking away from the game. I was sad and depressed. It took a monumental effort from my family and friends to pull me out of that phase. I don’t wish to get into the details, but that was not a great phase in my life. To come back to the national team from there took some doing,” Dhar remembered.
The call-up arrived after veteran Jhulan Goswami was injured for the third and final ODI of the ICC Women’s Championship series against South Africa.
“It was a very emotional moment for me, a personal triumph more than professional success. It will always be a special, special memory. I was 35, ready to quit, depressed, and now suddenly I was playing for India. It was a life-altering moment,” she said.
“Mithali, Jhulan, and I can look back at our careers with a lot of pride. I’d like to believe that we have taken the women’s game forward and set a lot of things right for the next generation. The legacy of Mithali and Jhulan is enduring and the onus is on the new lot to take it forward. We inherited our passion from the earlier generation. When we started, there was barely any money in the game. We carried on purely because of the love we had for cricket. We wanted to win every match we played to make things easier for the next generation.”
Dhar doesn’t have any regrets from her career; the two boxes she wanted to check were ticked last year when she scored a ton and claimed a hat-trick in domestic cricket. “I always wanted to score a hundred and take five wickets. I finally managed to get to three figures last year (vs Hyderabad) and also took a hat-trick (vs Himachal Pradesh) even though I couldn’t take a five-for. So, I retire happily and without regrets, knowing fully well that I’m leaving the game in a better place than what I inherited,” she said.
“What I’ll miss the most will be the dressing room. The 2005 World Cup dressing room with Mithali, Jhulan, Hemlata Kala, Neetu David, Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain was a joy to be with. Likewise, the one with the younger lot in 2018 was very special. These are the memories that I’ll always cherish,” Dhar, who plans to forge a career in coaching, concluded.