Shantha Rangaswamy has followed Mithali Raj’s cricketing career closely – first as a commentator, then as a chief selector. And, as Mithali announced retirement from all forms of cricket after being in the international arena for 23-long years, Rangaswamy calls her the ‘best women’s cricketer India has ever produced’.
“Even if you include myself, Sandhya Agarwal and all of us, Mithali has been the best batter. She is the best cricketer India has produced. Very accomplished and everyone has to retire, but then look at her contribution! She has played for 23 years and we have to respect that achievement,” Rangaswamy told Sportstar.
“It’s not just the longevity, also the records. She is the highest scorer in ODIs and has so many records to her credit. I salute her for her services to the country,” Rangaswamy, one of the pioneers of women’s cricket in India, said.
The 39-year-old Mithali led the Indian team in Tests, ODIs – the World Cup in New Zealand being her last assignment – and T20Is for years. Having made her debut in 1999, Mithali went on to feature in 232 ODIs, 89 T20Is and 12 Tests in her long and illustrious career.
In ODIs, she amassed 7805 runs with seven centuries and 64 fifties, whereas her run tally in T20Is is 2364 with 17 half-centuries. In Tests, she has scored 699 runs. After India’s ouster from the World Cup, there were debates over Mithali’s future and taking to social media, she announced that this was the “perfect time to call curtains on playing career”.
Rangaswamy remembers the first time she saw a 16-year-old Mithali during the World Cup in 2000 and how she impressed her. “That was in 2000 and I was covering the tournament as a commentator in New Zealand. When I saw her for the first match against South Africa, I thought, ‘who’s this player? She is amazing’. But unfortunately, after that game, she fell sick. Later on, when I became the chairman of the selection committee before the BCCI took over, I thought she had an amazing career. All sports loving people should stand and salute her for her services to the country,” Rangaswamy said.
Sudha Shah (right) with Anjum Chopra, Mithali Raj and Neetu David.
Soon after the news of Mithali’s retirement spread, there were calls of associating her with the Indian team as a mentor. But Rangaswamy, who is also a BCCI apex council member now, believes that there should be a gap between the two stints. “I personally feel that there should be a gap of five years between one role and another. Even though the BCCI had relaxed it in the case of MS Dhoni, I personally feel, you cannot be made coach just after you retire. There should be a five-year gap,” Rangaswamy said.
In her statement, Mithali has said that “this journey may have ended but another one beckons as I’d love to stay involved in the game I love and contribute to the growth of women’s cricket in India and world over…”, indicating that she could pursue coaching as a career soon.
Former India captain and erstwhile national selector Sudha Shah believes that Mithali should ‘wait a bit’ before taking up a coaching role, while adding that the decision to retire has come at the right time.
“After the World Cup, I thought this would happen. One factor is, of course, the age and I think she has taken the right decision. She can walk out proud of her achievements,” Shah said.
“An era of Indian women’s cricket has ended. She dominated women’s cricket from 1999. She put India into the world record and her feats also reflected on the country. It was an incredibly proud journey for all cricket fans,” she said.
For millions of Indian cricket fans, Mithali redefined Indian women’s cricket and put in all her efforts to take it forward.