CWC 2022: From the foothills of Darjeeling to the cricket world's biggest stage, Richa has made her sacrifices count
The wicketkeeper-batter is among the key players to watch out for from the Indian camp at the ICC Women's World Cup, which starts from Friday.
Coming from a relatively remote city of Siliguri, situated at the foothills of Darjeeling, it didn't take long for 18-year-old Richa Ghosh to rise the ranks and become a name to notice in the cricket circuit. The wicketkeeper-batter has successfully showcased her striking capabilities, as witnessed in the recent series against New Zealand, where she hit a 26-ball 50 – the fastest by an Indian woman cricketer in an ODI.
Just like many of her peers Richa too had to go through the grind to reach where she is. But the road to success was slightly easier due to the support of her father, Manabendra Ghosh a former club-level cricketer.
Ghosh, who is fond of pool, a sport that he claims Richa is yet to beat him in, says cricket was not his first choice. He explained that the lack of popularity of women's cricket back in the day was the reason behind it. However, it was Richa's reluctance to pick any other sport which convinced Ghosh to get her enrolled in the Baghajatin Athletic Club, a team he once used to play for.
“Richa started playing when she was around four years old. I used to take her to the club that I had represented at one time. I found out that she was not restless, she used to sit and watch the matches, used to pick the bat and play but never nagged about going home. I also tried to get her to join table tennis but she was not interested as she tossed the bat after a couple of shots, saying 'I want to play cricket'," Ghosh tells Hindustan Times while watching a sub-divisional T20 match at Siliguri's Kanchenjunga Stadium.
“At that time, we hardly had women's cricket; only Jhulan was there, so I was sceptical about her future in cricket but considering the fitness factor, I put her in the club. When she joined, she was the youngest and the only girl in the club.”
Considering her age, Richa was initially given the tennis ball to practice with. But her fearlessness despite taking a few painful blows made Ghosh get her a new cricketing kit. Having constantly monitored Richa's growth, Ghosh noticed a flair in his daughter's batting, enough to assure him to get her into serious business. He even tried to open a separate girls' academy in the club, for which he travelled to Kolkata and managed to get certain professionals onboard.
“Initially we used to give her a tennis ball and we noticed she was fearless. She didn't even bother if the ball hit her. Then I got her first cricket kit. What I also noticed was that she has this natural flow of the bat and then I realised we have to be serious about this, so I took permission from the club and we thought of opening an academy for women's cricket as well,” he says.
“So I went to Kolkata, where I met a former player and discussed the idea of setting up an academy and in front of me, she called Jhulan Goswami, who also gave positive feedback and was ready to help in whichever way she could. Unlucky for us because the club owners called me back and told me we are already finding it tough to run this for boys so it will be more difficult for girls.”
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The story didn't end there as Ghosh soon got a call from Siliguri Mahakuma Krira Parishad, the sports body of the city, who showed willingness in starting an academy for girls. They had also roped in a few coaches from Kolkata for this purpose, after which Richa soon began training there. “We had Chaitali Basak, who was one of the first people to groom Richa. Jhulan Goswami had also dropped in. They opted for an inter-district tournament.”
Domestic cricket journey
Richa was nine when she took part in the tournament and used to return unbeaten in almost all the matches she played. It was because of her performances in these tournaments that Richa was allowed to be part of a camp in Kolkata. A few years later, Richa was part of the Bengal U-19 side when she was just 13. After playing for the U-19 side for a year, she featured in the U-23, the senior T20 and One-Day team, making her the only player to be a part of all the teams when Bengal won the championship in 2018.
Not only with the bat or the glovework, but Richa was also a key contributor to her side with the ball. As her father describes: “she was one of the most economical bowlers.” Ghosh also recalls getting an interesting phone call from a coach, who felt Richa could turn out to be a good fast-bowling prospect because of her good height.
However, it was easier said than done as Richa was often asked to report to Kolkata to attend cricketing camps on short notice. For that, Richa was required to take an overnight train from Siliguri and travel in the crowded general compartment.
“You know it's very difficult to travel to Kolkata, and sometimes on very short notice we have to report there. So we used to travel in general compartment because there was no other option. Bus we used to avoid, flight we couldn't afford every time and the only option was train. I used to accompany Richa to every camp. Month after month I used to stay in a hotel, which was expensive but couldn't help it,” mentions Ghosh.
Having already established herself as a star batter in the Bengal unit, Richa continued her fine run in the Challengers Trophy, where she was part of India ‘B’ captained by Smriti Mandhana. Following her impressive display in the tournament, Richa was then picked in India's T20 World Cup squad in 2020, when she was just 16 and uncapped.
Fast forward two years, the wicketkeeper-batter is among the key players to watch out for from the Indian camp at the ICC Women's World Cup, which starts from Friday.
When asked about it to her father, he tells: “My dream was to see her play for India and getting a chance to see her play in World Cup is a dream come true with bonus.”
Life in Siliguri
As you enter the drawing-room of her house one will notice a giant photo frame of Richa receiving her maiden India cap from Harmanpreet Kaur while posing with the rest of her teammates. Then there's a rope hung at the centre and tied in it is a ball wrapped in a sock meant for knocking purposes.
Her mother, Swapna Ghosh, who is a homemaker, says Richa if present at home uses it to practice for almost 5-6 hours. Following this, her father quickly points at the window panes, which has been fixed recently after Richa broke each one of them with the same ball while doing her drill.
“She often plays in the drawing-room, which I prefer calling a playground. Sometimes she tells her father to bowl from one end while she bats from the other. There's not even a single glass on our windows that she hasn't broken and every time she does that she'll simply keep her tongue in between her teeth,” her mother says.
The entrance of her house has an alley, which used to serve as a training ground during the lockdown. Her trophy cabinet is filled with silverware most won by Richa and a few by her father as well.
While Richa has now shifted into a healthier diet, consisting mainly of vegetarian food with very little oil, her mother’s mind harks back to a time when she was fond of chilli chicken and fried rice.
“Nowadays she prefers to eat vegetarian food with little oil. However, there is one particular dish, which is chicken chilli and fried rice which she loves eating and even if she doesn't ask, we still eat it together to remind her old days,” she says.
Richa's rise in the international circuit has inspired other parents to enrol their kids in cricket academies. The Baghajatin Club now has 6-7 very young girls training, while a significant number practice at a bigger setup in Agragamee Club in Hakimpara, where Wriddhiman Saha used to play.