Mithali Raj – the torchbearer of women’s cricket in India

There is no shortage of stars in Indian women’s cricket now. It wasn’t so for a long, long time. There was only one poster girl in the game. She answered to the name Mithali Raj.

Before Harmanpreet Kaur did a Kapil Dev at the 2017 Women’s World Cup in England, women’s cricket in India hadn’t received much attention. More often than not, if it made news it would be for the latest feat achieved by Mithali.

And she made news at regular intervals. Runs flowed freely from her bat. Those runs would break many significant records.

It would be no exaggeration to say that she was synonymous with Indian women’s cricket for a long time. But for much of her career, she didn’t get as much due for her efforts as she deserved. For, she was playing at a time when the women’s game had few takers and little money.

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Mithali Raj announces retirement from international cricket

 

Today, a Kiran Navgire could become a star with just one knock. Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Shafali Verma are household names who are much in demand in franchise leagues overseas. Harleen Deol could trend on social media on account of a catch. And there is money in women’s cricket now.

Mithali has decided she would no longer play in any form of international cricket. She was non-committal during the World Cup in New Zealand about her retirement plans. Not many would be surprised that it was her last tournament and the match against South Africa at Christchurch on March 27 her last.

The writing was on the wall when Mithali wasn’t picked for the Women’s T20 Challenge – the precursor to the Women’s IPL — at Pune late last month. She had been part of the first three editions and was the captain of Velocity in the last two. And she hadn’t played a T20I since 2019.

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She may have felt there wasn’t much left for her to achieve in her career. A career that saw her make 7805 runs in 232 ODIs and 2364 runs in 89 T20Is. If she played only in 12 Tests after making her debut in 2002 that is because women get to play few of them. She scored 699 runs in those Tests and her 214, which she made at Taunton against England later that year, remains the second highest individual score in Women’s Tests.

With 10,868 runs she is the highest scorer in international women’s cricket. She is also the highest run getter in WODI, in which she made a stunning debut aged 16, with an unbeaten 114. She led India in two World Cup finals.

Her contribution to Indian women’s cricket goes much beyond all those numbers. Her bat carried the Indian innings for a couple of decades. She inspired several girls to pick up a cricket bat at a time when it wasn’t the most glamorous thing to do.

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