In early 90s, late Sampath Kumar, a low-profile cricket coach of the then Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC), used to take with him a young Mithali Raj to the media houses to serve a reminder of sorts to the local media about the huge potential the young cricketer had.
It was a tough call for both Sampath and Mithali’s parents to see that the kid had to make a difficult choice of choosing between cricket and her first love – classical dancing (Bharatnatyam).
But, obviously, classical dancing’s loss turned out to be cricket’s huge gain in retrospect.
So, when Mithali Raj announced her retirement on Wednesday after such a long and illustrious career – often dubbed as Sachin Tendulkar of women’s cricket for her monumental feats with the willow, it was a culmination of an era in which she defied all odds.
Training diligently at the backyards of the Keyes High School in Secunderabad under the watchful eyes of Sampath Kumar to graduating to the seniors grade when there were only a handful of tournaments organised by the then AP Women’s Cricket Association – with late T.N. Pillay and Mrs Jyothi Joshi being the key officials – a young Mithali clearly evolved and transgressed all possible limits any women cricketers would face in those days.
Ironically, women’s cricket was comparatively better off in the 90s than from the next decade onwards. And, so much so that Mithali often struggled to find quality bowlers to get ‘real practice’ before international assignments. A scenario which forced her to look to St. John’s Cricket Academy of K. John Manoj, well-known coach and former HCA Secretary, which produced the likes of VVS Laxman, Hanuma Vihari to name a couple.
Playing with boys at the Foundation under the tutelage of her coach R.S.R. Murthy (in the later part of her career), Mithali slowly but surely demonstrated that she belonged to a different class by virtue of her talent, determination and hours of practice. So much so that the boys used to get chided by the coaches who showed the example of Mithali training for hours with a couple of young cricketers.
And, to her credit, Mithali has always been the ever-smiling, sober and down-to-earth cricketer, mingling with the young and the seasoned players and coaches with the same warmth.
Someone who tried her best to steer clear of any controversies and successfully managed to keep her personal life away from media glare by letting her bat speak, as they say.