Mithali Raj: A career beyond comparisons

Indian cricketer Mithali Raj, considered one of the greatest female cricketers ever, has no professional strike rate. She played a few of her tests at a time when the variety of balls she faced was not recorded in worldwide cricket all the time. And thus, she belongs to a different period

Mithali Raj

Photo: Twitter

Born on 3 December 1982, she has set a world record with 10,868 runs. Mithali played for India for 23 years between 1999 and 2022. The only other Indian cricketer to have had such a long professional career is Sachin Tendulkar who played for India for 24 years. Just like Tendulkar, she has a record of being the highest-run scorer in women’s international cricket and one of the finest batters of all time.

Debuting for India in 1999 as a 16-year-old, she represented India in 12 Tests, 232 ODIs and 89 T20Is in all — with 195 of them as captain. She also led the team to the finals in two World Cups.

Mithali began with a century in 1999. She now finishes as the highest ODI run-scorer with 7,805 runs, including 700 and 64 fifties. The last of her fifties came in her final outing for India against South Africa in the World Cup in March when India was knocked out.

In Women’s Tests as well, this Jodhpur-born cricketer is India’s only double centurion, with her 214 against England in 2002 being the second-highest individual score in the game.

In the T20I format, however, Mithali was embroiled in a controversy. In the latter part of her professional career, she was dropped from playing the XI during the 2018 T20 World Cup. This was followed by a tug of war between Mithali, the chief coach Ramesh Powar, and the captain Harmanpreet Kaur. Later, she retired from T20I career in 2019 but is still India’s highest run-getter in the format.

But what these statistics don’t tell us is the inspiration Mithali has become for generations of female cricketers in a predominantly male sport. Her departure ends Indian cricket’s last active link to the 1990s and represents a complete transition to a new era across formats under Harmanpreet Kaur, whose first assignment will be India’s tour of Sri Lanka later this month.

Mithali has been widely recognised for her contributions to the game in India and has received several civilian awards, including the Arjuna Award, the Padma Shri, and most recently the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2021.

Dance vs cricket

Mithali was born to air force officer S Dorairaj and Leela Raj in Jodhpur. Later, the family shifted to Hyderabad, where she picked up her early cricket lessons as she sat on the sidelines of a cricket field in Secunderabad.

As a young girl, Mithali used to accompany her elder brother to St. John’s Cricket Academy in her father’s two-wheeler. While her father used to clean his two-wheeler during the waiting time, she used to finish her math homework under a tamarind tree. Every time the ball crossed the boundary, the players used to shout at her to throw it back. It was during those days that young Mithali picked up a few lessons in cricket.

Like any other Tamil family where boys were encouraged to take lessons on the violin or mridangam and girls to learn to sing or dance, the Mithali family was no exception. She learnt Bharatanatyam for eight years before taking up cricket as a full-time hobby in class 10.

It was not an easy task for her to forgo dancing so easily. Mithali was so fond of dancing, but cricket was a passion for her father. It was the early encouragement that she got from her school coach Sampath Kumar that she continued to pursue a career in cricket. The result was there for everyone around her to see.

Between the age of 11 and 13, she played for the Under-16, Under-19, and senior state teams. It was when she had been training only for a year. Mithali represented a senior-level cricket team at the age of 12, and India by the age of 16.

Coach Sampath promised her parents that Mithali would play for India by the age of 14. The promise was made because he wanted her to break Sachin Tendulkar’s record of representing India at the age of 16.

Although Mithali made it to the 30 probables of the World Cup camp in 1997 at the age of 15, the happiness was short-lived. Mithali’s coach passed away only a day after and she failed to make it to the final team. After this fateful incident, Mithali took it in her stride and finally made her international debut against Ireland in June 1999 at Campbell Park, Milton Keynes. She scored an unbeaten 114 on her debut.

Photo: Twitter

By 2002, she was an integral part of the Indian team and was soon appointed as vice-captain. She was also offered captaincy in the year which she politely refused on the grounds that she was not mentally prepared to take that kind of responsibility.
In 2005, the selection committee led by Shanta Rangaswamy, and Mithali led Indian women in the 2005 World Cup. This was, in fact, her first assignment as a skipper as she had not even led any domestic team before that. But the results were amazing as the Indian team reached the finals for the first time before losing to Australia. Mithali played six World Cups for India but never won the title. As a player, she was part of the World Cup team in 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013, 2017 and 2022.

No money, only motivation
In the 1990s, when there was no money for women’s cricket, Mithali’s father had to submit Rs 25,000 to send her on the tour to England.

As if this was not enough, Mithali and other female cricketers used to travel in trains to attend national camps. Due to the unavailability of money, there were no doctors, physios or physical trainers. That was when Mithali had to struggle with a ligament tear in her right leg in 2005, just before the World Cup in South Africa.

The injury was never healed properly, and she played with it for the next five years. It was only after the women’s cricket association’s merger with the BCCI in 2006 that Mithali and other women players got a chance to visit the National Cricket Academy (NCA). The professional trainers and physios there helped Mithali to regain her full fitness once again.

7805

Mithali Raj finished her career as the highest run-scorer in women’s ODIs.
 71

Her tally of 71 fifty-plus scores is the highest for any batter in women’s ODIs.

 1321

Mithali finished as India’s highest run-scorer in Women’s ODI World Cups. She’s second on the overall list.

7

 She scored most centuries by an Indian in Women’s ODIs.

 2364

Having last played a T20I in 2019, Mithali is still India’s highest run-getter in women’s T20Is.

 10868

Mithali is the only batter to date to score over 10,500 runs in women’s cricket.

 06

Mithali is the only cricketer to feature in six editions of women’s ODI World Cups.

 214

Her knock of 214 against England in 2002 is still the second-highest individual score in women’s Tests.

 16 years 205 days

Mithali is still the youngest batter to slam a century in women’s ODIs.

 22 years 274 days

 The batting legend holds the record for the longest career in women’s cricket.

But even after the merger, not much changed for women’s cricket in India till 2015. Things only started to get better once the Indian women’s team were given central contracts like their male counterparts. The BCCI introduced two grades — Rs 15 lakh annually for each Grade A player and Rs 10 lakh for Grade B players. The contracts are likely to go up to Rs 50 for Grade A women players from next year.

Mithali is leaving the stage at a time when the BCCI is yet to deliver on its promise of a women’s Indian Premier League. The plan to launch a full-fledged women’s IPL (WIPL) was discussed during the last Governing Council Meeting of the BCCI. Now it is up to the AGM to approve it in September 2022.

8,383 days since making her debut as a 16-year-old, Mithali is looking forward to administering the game she always loved and lived for. At 39, she will have to pick an option from either “a career behind the mic” or a “career in cricket as a coach or an administrator”.

Whatever she picks, the entire cricket world will eagerly await that day to come. Till then, rest a bit, Mithali, before taking a fresh stance for your next innings.

 

For more stories that cover the ongoings of Delhi NCR, follow us on:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thepatriot_in/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Patriot_Delhi
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thepatriotnewsindia

 

Chander Shekhar Luthra
+ posts