Cricket is a sport ruled by legends, like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. But do you notice one thing, the sport being for all, for both genders, we still talk about the males who have performed way above their leagues. But there’s one player in the Indian sports fraternity who has punched her ceilings, breaking barriers, going beyond the gender comparison and has cemented her name in one of the greatest legends of all time. She with her talent, perseverance and attitude on the pitch alone has advocated for the growth of women’s cricket. And that player is none other than the former Indian Women’s cricket team Captain, Mithali Raj.
Credit: The Economic Times
In this Chapter of ZAP Legends, let’s delve into the life and the inspiring journey of Mithali Raj.
Mithali was born on 3rd December, 1982 in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. From a very early age, it was very clear that Raj was supremely talented and was destined for greatness, since the first time she started playing the sport at 10. Before joining the railways, she played for Air India in the domestic circuit alongside Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain and Purnima Rau, all former Indian players. At the age of 14, she was in the backup team for the 1997 Women's Cricket World Cup, but couldn’t make the final squad.
Mithali Raj’s India Debut and International Career:
Raj, who has played all three cricket formats for the country made a remarkable start to her India debut. She played her first match for India in an ODI against Ireland in 1999, at the age of 16, and scored a ton on debut! In the 2001–2002 season, she played her first Test against South Africa in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. At the age of 19, on August 17, 2002, she surpassed Karen Rolton's previous record of 209* in her third test, setting a new record of 214 against England in the second and final test at County Ground in Taunton, United Kingdom. She had a calm batting technique, and was the kind of batsman who could take the game deep, not by playing the flashiest of shots, but standing firm and bringing stability to the batting lineup.
Credit: ICC Cricket
Captainship and Success on the Field:
Raj steered India to their first Women's Cricket World Cup final in 2005 in South Africa, where they fell to Australia. She guided her team to their first-ever Test series victory in England in August 2006. They also successfully defended the Asia Cup without losing a single match to close out the year. Mithali led her brigade to the 2017 World Cup Final, where they heartbreakingly again fell short to England by 9 runs at the Lord's Cricket Ground. She was appointed captain of the Indian Test team in May 2021 for their one-off match against the England women's cricket team. She was chosen to lead India at the 2022 Women's World Cup in New Zealand in January 2022.
Credit: Deccan Herald
For her brilliant start to her career, she was awarded with the Arjuna Award in 2003. Raj was the top female ODI player at the 2013 Women's World Cup. In her career, she scored one century, four fifties in test format. In the ODI format, she hit the triple figure 7 times and scored 64 fifties and the best bowling figures of 3-4. Even in the t20 format she was unstoppable, scoring 17 half centuries in the format.
She reached the milestone of 5,500 runs in ODIs in February 2017 and was only the second one to ever do it. She later achieved a milestone of 6,000 runs in World One Day Internationals in July 2017. For India's ODI and T20I teams, Raj is the first player to have captained the most games.
Raj was shortlisted for the ICC Female Cricketer of the Decade award and the women's ODI cricketer award in November 2020.
Raj was also nominated for both the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Award for Women's ODI Cricketer of the Decade and the ICC Female Cricketer of the Decade in November 2020.
Mithali Raj Records:
- Raj is known as the "Lady Tendulkar of Indian Women's Cricket" and she presently holds the record for most runs scored by an Indian player in all competitions, including Tests, ODIs, and T20 Internationals.
- Raj set a record for the most consecutive half-centuries by a player during the 2017 Women's Cricket World Cup when she struck her seventh successive half-century.
- Raj is the first player from India and the fifth woman worldwide to surpass 1,000 runs in a World Cup.
- She has participated in 109 Women's One Day Internationals in a row for a squad, which is a record.
The Retirement and Controversies Surrounding:
Mithali Raj was involved in a controversy during the 2018 ICC Women's World Twenty20. She accused coach Ramesh Powar and BCCI COA member Diana Edulji of bias and humiliation for not including her in the T20 World Cup semifinals. Powar criticized Raj for threatening to retire and accused her of blackmailing coaches and causing division in the team. Her relationship with the then captain Harmanpreet Kaur was strained. However, they have since reconciled after Powar was reappointed as the team's head coach in 2021. Raj and Kaur confirmed in interviews that there is no bad blood between them. Mithali eventually bid adieu to all forms of cricket on 8 June 2022, and marked the end of a wonderful career.
Mithali Raj is a name that now every person in India knows and admires. Be it the way she held herself and the team’s responsibilities on and off the pitch, or her batting with the big round hat or her tradition of always reading a book before going to bat, it will all remain loved and remembered by fans. And for her indomitable will and inspiring stature, she’ll always remain one of the greatest women’s cricket players of all time.