For many years, Mithali Raj has represented Indian women’s cricket at the highest level. She has been an icon and a role model for a lot of players of the current generation and has shouldered the responsibility of the development of women’s cricket in India at a time when it was largely ignored in preference to the men’s team by its own governing body – the Board of Cricket Control for India (BCCI), the media and the public at large. The team under Mithali Raj played most in front of empty grounds that also seemed to lack many of the required facilities.
Even under such times, the team under Mithali Raj performed admirably. Under her stewardship, India has appeared twice in Women’s World Cup Finals and have won the Women’s Asia Cup on four consecutive occasions. She herself has been very successful – both as a player and a captain – and has set numerous records for herself.
Coached by late Sampath Kumar, and brought up in an army background, she was always hard-working and disciplined which led to her sound technique. She has also developed delightful footwork resulting in copybook strokes that are a pleasure to watch. Her ability to dig in and anchor the innings coupled with her ability to bat with the lower-order had made her a prized wicket in her heydays.
Mithali Raj, during the South African tour of India, completed as many as 20 years in Indian cricket. She is the first player in women’s cricket to complete two decades. Her journey is a source of inspiration for many who are looking to rise above challenges and compete against all odds while remaining calm, courageous and dignified in the process. Here’s what Mithali had to say,
Over the last week, I have received a lot of wishes, most to congratulate me on my team’s excellent performance , beating SA 3-0 and also on achieving some personal milestones . I express my gratitude and thank each and every individual for their love and support🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/dDKnciUA38
— Mithali Raj (@M_Raj03) October 16, 2019
Mithali Raj’s international career started at the age of 17 when she was picked for the ODI series in Ireland in the year 1999. During her debut match, she registered her maiden century, scoring an unbeaten 114 runs. She was one of the only two Indian women to make a century on debut, the other being Reshma Gandhi also making her century on debut in the same match itself. She was also the youngest player – male or female – to score a century in ODI cricket, a record which stands even to this day.
She later played her first test match in 2000-01 season when she was picked for the Test match against South Africa in Lucknow. In the very next year, in 2002, she entered her name in the record books by scoring the highest individual score in Women’s Tests at that time. It was made during the second test match against England at Taunton when she scored 214 runs surpassing Karen Rolton’s record of an unbeaten 209. Although that record did not stand for long, as Kiran Baluch of Pakistan scored 242 against the West Indies in 2004.
Captaining the Indian Cricket Team
After narrowly missing out of the final team for the 1997 Women’s World Cup and not playing in the 2000 Women’s World Cup due to illness, Mithali Raj ended up captaining the side for the 2005 Women’s World Cup in South Africa. Under her leadership, India overcame teams such as England to finish second on the points table, behind Australia. India ended up defeating New Zealand in the semi-finals with Mithali Raj being the architect of the victory, scoring a classy 91 off 104 balls to set up a target which they successfully defended, exacting revenge over the narrow loss to the same team during the league phase. In that match too, Mithali Raj top-scored for India making a half-century as they fell short of New Zealand’s score by 16 runs. She led India to their first World Cup final but lost to Australia in the finals, who had beaten them quite comprehensively. Mithali Raj ended up scoring the highest runs for India during the tournament, amassing a total of 199 runs from 7 matches scoring two half-centuries.
The very next year, in 2006, she led India to its first-ever Test and series victory on English soil. During that same year, she led India to the Asia Cup title-winning all games that they played. In all, the Indian Women’s team has won four consecutive Asia Cup titles with Mithali Raj at the helm. India had beaten Sri Lanka thrice in the finals to win the Asia Cup – the 2005-2006 edition, the 2006 edition, and the 2008 edition. They also won the 2012 edition by beating their arch-rivals Pakistan in the first-ever Asia Cup played in the T20 format.
Mithali Raj also led India to series wins against teams such as Sri Lanka and New Zealand at home. India white-washed Sri Lanka 3-0 during their tour of India in 2013-14, with India winning all the three ODIs quite comfortably. Then in 2015, India won against New Zealand when they had toured India for 5 ODIs winning the series 3-2.
Mithali Raj’s Indian team also created a team record of winning 16 matches on-the-trot – a streak which began with India defeating Australia during the tour of Australia in February 2016 and ended during the Quadrangular ODI series in South Africa in May 2017 just before the 2017 Women’s World Cup in England.
Women’s World Cup 2017 and Beyond
The 2017 Women’s World Cup in England was a proud moment for Indian cricket. The Indian Women’s team, led by Mithali Raj, defeated top teams such as England and New Zealand to become the table-toppers and progress to the knockouts. In the semi-finals, they defeated Australia comprehensively to progress to their second World Cup finals in history. They went down fighting to lose by a very narrow margin of 9 runs against England.
Mithali Raj contributed to the team’s success by scoring two half-centuries – against England in the tournament opener and against Australia in the league phase. She also scored 109 runs off 123 balls against New Zealand. In the process, she became the first player to score 6000 runs in Women’s ODIs surpassing Charlotte Edwards tally of 5992 runs. She also became the first woman to score 7 half-centuries consecutively by scoring 71 against England in their first match of the tournament.
Since the World Cup, they have been able to build on the success by winning six of the seven ODI series that they have played. They won the ODI series against South Africa in South Africa in February 2018, against England at home in April 2018, against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in September that year, against New Zealand in New Zealand in January-February 2019 and against England and South Africa at home recently.
The only blemish that she has seen during this period is the controversy during the 2018 Women’s T20 World Cup in West Indies in which she drew flak for her attitude arising out of being dropped from the Playing XI. The reason mentioned for this move was that her game was not suitable for T20 cricket. This incident consequently led to a rift between her and the T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur. This controversy had an effect on India’s progress during the tournament as they were knocked out by England in the semi-finals after progressing to the knock-outs by winning all group games including the ones against Australia and New Zealand and topping the group.
Although she featured in the T20I series against New Zealand and England, she opted to prolong her ODI career in her quest to win the Women’s World Cup for India in 2021 by recently announcing her retirement from T20Is before the series against South Africa at home.
Mithali Raj says she has won everything but @cricketworldcup title eludes her, sets eye on playing mega event in 2021.
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) July 8, 2019
Batting & Captaincy Performance
Mithali Raj has had a stellar career and has found a place in many of the records in Women’s Cricket. She may have just played 10 test matches but has scored 663 runs including a career-defining 214 against England in Taunton. She is one of very few players to have made a double-century in Women’s Tests and held the record for the highest individual score in Women’s Test cricket at one point in time.
The day has finally arrived! #MithaliRaj who played her first ODI on Jun 26, 1999 is all set to play her 200th ODI today on 1st Feb 2019 (The duration of her international career is now 19 years and 218 days).
WHAT A LEGEND, WHAT A PLAYER! 🇮🇳🇮🇳
Take a bow, Captain! pic.twitter.com/phMrQ4ullL
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) January 31, 2019
The bulk of her success has come in Women’s One Day Internationals, where she has featured in 206 matches making 6800+ runs at an average of just over 50. She is the first player to play 200 Women’s ODIs. She still holds the record for most runs in ODI cricket and is expected to lead the charts for a long time considering that the next active player is more than 2000 runs behind (Stafanie Taylor with 4561 runs). She has scored 7 centuries and as many as 53 half-centuries, including 7 consecutive fifties. She holds the record for most half-centuries and the most consecutive half-centuries. She is also the youngest player – male or female – to score a century in ODIs. She is the first Indian woman and the fifth women’s cricketer to score 1000+ runs in World Cup matches. She has played the highest number of consecutive Women’s ODIs for a team.
Mithali Raj has also played 89 T20Is making 2364 runs and scoring 17 half-centuries. She is currently India’s leading run-scorer in T20Is and the first Indian player – male or female – to reach 2000 runs in T20I cricket.
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) June 7, 2018
She also holds the record of playing the highest number of Women’s ODIs as a captain by virtue of captaining the Indian Women’s side on 129 occasions winning 80 of them. She has represented India in World Cup finals twice, making her the first Indian to feature in two World Cup finals as captain. She has also captained India in 32 T20Is winning 17 of them.
She was a recipient of the Arjuna Awards in 2003 and the Padma Shri in 2015.
As she steps into the 21st year of her cricketing journey, we wish her all the very best for her next assignment, the tour of West Indies next month, as well as the rest of her career.