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Rejuvenated Rumeli Dhar Keeps the Fire Alive

You remember Jemimah Rodrigues’ stunner at mid-wicket against South Africa, don’t you? Marizanne Kapp was thinking about six till it reached the rope at mid-wicket, then Jemima Rodrigues popped out of nowhere, leapt on the spot and pulled off a stunner! She was inches in front of the rope as she took the catch. That effort could rank alongside any of the brilliant takes at the boundary rope. Amidst that brilliance, the bowler who picked up her 3 wickets remained unnoticed. Rumeli Dhar – the bowler who returned to the Blue jersey after 6 years.

Rumeli Dhar, who was regarded as one of the prominent all-rounders of the team in the first decade of the century, made the headline when she was called back in the T20I squad for South Africa Tour in 2018. After her wicket-less venture in the 4th match of the series, she picked up 3  valuable wickets of  Lizelle Lee, Marizanne Kapp and Dane Van Niekerk, conceding just 23 runs to secure a 54 runs victory for her team.

It is never an easy task to make a comeback for the national side after 6 long years. And it’s more difficult for one who has suffered a lot due to her injuries. Rumeli, who has taken 15 wickets with an average of 19 in her last 10 ODI matches, including 4-wicket hauls against Australia and England, missed crucial years of her career due to injuries.

She has suffered from the depression at times but she never gave up. She reached a point where she was living but there was no life in her. she had none at her side in those tough phases. But she kept on pushing and her indomitable spirit. It was her stubbornness that kept her going with the support of her family and friends.

Rumeli Dhar
Rumeli Dhar | Picture courtesy: Reuters

Dhar, who belongs to Shyamnagar, a town in North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, was more focused towards gymnastic in her initial years, back in the 1990s. Cricket was nowhere in her mind due to the financial problem in her family. Later with the help and encouragement from a coach like late Tultul Chatterjee she shifted to cricket.

READ HERE: ‘World Cup Qualification Is a Welcome News Amid COVID-19 Crisis’ – Mithali Raj

“Tultul Chatterjee was a friend of my uncle and he had asked if I was interested enough to play cricket or not. Then under the guidance of late Prodyot Mitra, my journey started at Sabuj Sangha Club at Shyamnagar. Later I came to Salt Lake for the better opportunity, there I was guided by Kalyan Mitra. All these coaches have immanence impact to shape my career in the early stages. I gave trial for the Bengal sub-junior team but unfortunately, I was not selected. But despite that setback, I never looked back and got selected for Bengal junior team.” said Dhar to Women’s CricInsight.

Rumeli, then gradually went on to play for senior Bengal, East Zone and then selected for the National Camp for 2000 World Cup. She moved to Air India only to find to her she found her full potential as a cricketer.

“I have played 3 years for Air India and the people like Anju Jain, Anjum Chopra helped me a lot in my career. I feel that as an all-rounder I evolved much under the coaches in Air India. They helped me to boost my self-confidence and that in return helped me to perform well in the domestic circuit.  The senior players including Anjum di took care of me there and even in the 2005 World Cup. She used to encourage me a lot and always there for me,” she added.

Rumeli has played for Railways, Rajasthan, Assam and Delhi too for almost two decades now. To her, every state team has a different atmosphere and the essence of its own. In T-20 tournament, she took 7 wickets for Delhi while scoring 226 runs in One-day tournament. She even got the call for the East Zone, after ages. It was Delhi’s performance in the T-20 tournament which earned her a call back in the national side.

Rumeli Dhar
Rumeli Dhar during the Senior Women’s T20 league Image – Annesha Ghosh/ESPNCricinfo

“Yup, Rajasthan and Assam are not stronger sides if you compare them with other states but they have the capacities to turn out be a giant-killers even today.  The teams are improving and they are under a continuous process. I can remember about one tournament during my stay in Rajasthan, none took seriously in an interstate tournament, but the team qualified for the knockouts under my captaincy. It was for the first time the team qualified in any knockout. So it was a big achievement for us,” expressed the all-rounder.

“Jaya Sharma, Preeti Dimri and I  were the faces out there and along with the juniors, the team played competitive cricket. The same thing goes for North Eastern team like Assam as well. If every team has a couple of good players who have played Intentional cricket that helps any state team.  the junior players get the experience of the players, they get the chances to learn from them and mentally the gets better and better. Many of the good players from different states now a days are playing for the north-eastern states which is a good sign,” she further added.

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When she was asked about the fact that more dependence on two or three players can actually hamper the balance or internal structure of domestic cricket, she asserted that it’s not only about the senior cricketers who are going to play for the team but also about the cricket association of that particular states matters the most.

“The state associations must take steps for the better preparations of the players in those states they should encourage the girls more and organize regular camps for the practice. It’s not about a camp just before the tournaments and the girls should be monitored regularly,” she explained.

Rumeli Dhar
Rumeli Dhar © AFP

Dhar made her debut for India in ODI way back in 2003 at a young age of 19 and impressed people with her economical spell of 6-3-10-0 against mighty England and her T20I debut was also against England. In that match she scored an unbeaten 66, opening the innings for India. It is still the highest score for India by any debutant in T20I.

Rumeli Dhar has represented India in 2005 and 2009 World Cups. In 2005 under Mithali Raj India lost the final to Australia by 98 runs whereas 2009 under Jhulan Goswami India defeated Australia twice in the same edition and came third in the tournament.

Besides taking 13 wickets in 15 World Cup matches with an average of 25, Rumeli has scored 134 runs in 9 outings with a best of unbeaten 42 against England in 2005. While chasing a total of 140, India was reduced to 35/3 within 20 overs. But Anjum Chopra and Dhar made a sublime partnership of unbeaten 106 for the fourth wicket to secure the victory.

Apart from that, she has done well against South Africa too. While chasing 80 runs, India made a mockery of the run chase and reduced to 56/6. But Rumeli’s unbeaten 33 helped to survive the hiccups. 2005 World Cup was the first time that Dhar batted up in the order and  Hemalata Kala was the person behind that who continuously perused the management to push Rumeli up the order.

“I have always enjoyed batting with Anjum di, Mithali and Hema di. All of them are a great individual and nice person to bat with. I have never faced any problem while batting with them. I will remember the 2005 World Cup forever for different reasons and that match is one of them. We lost the final, because of the inexperience but this was something we all wish to cherish for long. Test series victory against England is special but that can’t match the World Cup,” she recalled.

Rumeli Dhar batting partnership in ODI

Innings NO Runs Best Average 100 50
Mithali Raj 26 3 752 95* 32.69 0 4 view innings
Anjum Chopra 16 2 447 106* 31.92 1 1 view innings
Hemalata Kala 8 1 200 105 28.57 1 1 view innings

She has played under different captains like Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Anjum Chopra etc. and they have a different style of captaincy as well. Notably, Rumeli has captained the national side in a lone ODI against Australia in 2008 but that didn’t save them from being whitewashed.

READ HERE: ‘To Win in the Big Stage, Bangladesh Need to Get the Mindset Right’: Anju Jain

“Both Mithali and Jhulan has a different style of captaincy and for one who has played under both and even under Anjum Chopra, its difficult to choose one. Mithali is calmer in the field, you cant guess what is going through her mind. On the contrary, Jhulan like any other captain gets a little agitated if bowlers are not producing the desired result. Both of them are a good friend of mine and I have enjoyed playing under them. And in the domestic level, I didn’t face any problem under so many captains as I only focused on the job assigned to me,” shared Dhar.

Currently, India need a pool of pace bowlers in their circuit. After Jhulan Goswami’s retirement from the T20I format, Shikha Pandey is leading the charge. Apart from her, the youngsters failed to perform consistently. Team India recently lost to Australia in the final of ICC T20 World Cup and we all know how a fast bowler can turn the table in the game.

Rumeli Dhar
Rumeli Dhar. Image – Getty

“India need a pool of fast bowlers and need to monitor them regularly. Besides, the fast bowlers should perform consistently before storming into the national side. They need to give enough time to work on their strengths, sharpening the skills and take the game seriously even the domestics games. Sikha Pandey has evolved a lot and everyone can see the changes in her bowling and that because of her seriousness and work ethics in the domestics. India lack some genuine seaming all-rounder apart from Jhulan and Sikha and these are areas team should look into,” she asserted.

However, Rumeli Dhar who has started her career for Bengal wants to end it playing for the same team. In 2019-20 Season she has returned to Bengal and played an important role in Senior T20 tournament. She scored 296 runs and picked up 14 wickets where Bengal remained unbeaten for 12 matches, until the final.

“During the early days and still now Bengal is a good team. These new girls are really good and even those who are not getting enough chances also have the full potential. Players are giving their hundred percent and that’s why we were undefeated in the Senior T20 Trophy till the final and even in the One Day Interstate tournament as well. One bad day at work doesn’t define the overall character of the team. Having said that the players need to take their game to the next level and maintain the consistency. The more they perform in all domestic tournaments, their chances will not go unnoticed.” claimed the veteran, Rumeli Dhar.

Although it is not known whether we can see her again in blue, her presence can certainly help the youngsters on the domestic side.

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