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Rumeli Dhar
Source: ICC website

Thirty nine short of a thousand ODI runs. Twenty two short of playing a hundred fifty-over games. Six wickets shy of touching one hundred wickets in the game for India. And perhaps innumerable contests short from forging a career that could truly have been memorable. Rumeli Dhar was a name synonymous to India women’s cricket in the early 2000s.

Yet, as the years wore on, Rumeli Dhar would precisely become the name that would, with much respect to a committed athlete, stay burrowed in injuries.

Resultantly, it would remain left behind somewhat.

Today, as one looks back at what are glorious chapters of women’s cricket in India, you view the life and works of Mithali Raj with much pride and respect. You tend to think of the glowing career of a Smriti Mandhana with an immensity of expectation.

And likewise, you think of a Richa Ghosh and Shafali Verma as being careers that are the future flag bearers of Indian cricket.

Though frankly when you think of a certain Rumeli Dhar, you tend to surround yourself with disappointment. But the real disappointment here stems not from a lack of potential and game-changing performances; Dhar fired 961 runs from just sixty ODI innings and even took 63 wickets from seventy eight appearances. After nearly twenty years of serving her country, her bowling economy rests at an envious 3.4 in ODI’s and well under 7 in T20I’s.

It’s the sheer dearth of games that Dhar’s career presides over despite an almost 20-year-career that points to the big question.

If a cricketer was active from 2003 well until the onset of 2022, and yet, featured in seventy nine international games for her country, then something was really amiss.

It points to the ‘what might.’

The what might have happened if Rumeli Dhar been fit and not missed out on so many contests that she eventually did for a country she was so proud of representing.

Precisely the very country she is willing to serve in all her capacity even after her retirement. Shoulder scuffles, ligament tears and whatnot. So much of Dhar’s career was spent warming benches and on medical facility beds when it was actually meant to thwart India’s opponents on the cricket pitch that it hurts and seems spectacularly unfair.

Though truth be known, Rumeli Dhar’s retirement is every bit as somber as a student habitual of getting straight A’s flunking an exam for she simply couldn’t turn up for it.

While much of our attention rests – and understandably so- with T20 international cricket, it being the template to excel in the game and the format of the game considered fun and exciting, perhaps what we’ve forgotten over time is that Dhar played a great part in the first-ever T20 India played.

In August 2006, where India played England at Derby, it wasn’t anyone among the trinity of Harmanpreet, Mithali or Jhulan who turned a corner for the sub-continental cricketing force; it was Rumeli Dhar, then a 22-year-old cricketing newbie who made headlines for a player-of-the-match performance.

Excelling for India, whenever called upon to create a difference, was perhaps ingrained in her DNA.

And how’s that?

In February of 2018, when Dhar, who had by then become a well established cricketer, was called as a last-minute replacement to the injured Goswami to face the Proteas in T20I’s, the Bengal-born was at it again.

Accepting the responsibility with quintessential gusto, Dhar, who went wicketless in the first game that she would play, came back stronger in the fifth and final T20I.

India’s 166 looked safe as an investment locked in a bank vault since Dhar with her bang-on medium pace took a vital, match-winning 3-for.

Conceding only twenty six from 4 overs, she’d remove the big batters- Dane van Niekerk and Lizelle Lee. Later, Kapp, who with her 27 looked threatening at one stage was sent back as well.

India won that contest but Dhar, despite a series-winning performance, didn’t really win in that she’d feature only in a T20I for one more time after that queenly effort versus South Africa.

The March 2018 T20 against the Southern Stars would be the last anyone would see Rumeli Dhar in Indian colours. Even more saddening and just as baffling is the fact that the last ODI for her came about in 2012.

In the end, we see a promising career that, who knows, could’ve come within striking distance of greatness had it persisted with longevity instead of winding up to a slow, painful halt.

A halt that as on June 22, 2022 has become a permanent fixture though not before turning heads all around with her nagging accuracy and disciplined line and length.

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