She is the Tendulkar of Indian women’s cricket — or more. Here’s why
Who is Mithali Dorai Raj? Not many Indians would know this cricketer — even those who love cricket and worship Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar’s story, obviously, is folklore. Everyone reverently remembers the 15-year-old who once faced fiery pacer Waqar Younis, despite getting hit by a nasty delivery. But not many know the story of a teenage girl walking out to represent India in a World Cup ODI and scoring a hundred on debut. Because women’s cricket in India is a margin sport.
For starters, Mithali Raj, the 34-year-old captain of the Indian women cricket team, is the first woman on the planet to score 6,000 ODI runs. She reached this milestone by hitting 62 against the mighty Australians at the World Cup match in Bristol last Wednesday. Mithali’s record shines better if you consider that the next best feat from India is 2,856 runs by Anjum Chopra of Delhi. That also shows the absence of consistent, long-term players serving Indian women’s cricket.
One need to look at Mithali’s numbers keeping these factors in mind. In a career spanning 18 years, she has played only 10 Test matches. For a while, she held the record for the highest individual score in women’s test cricket, 214, which she scored against England when she was a 19-year-old. She also holds the record for seven consecutive fifties in One Day Internationals, almost matching the record of Pakistan’s Javed Miandad — nine consecutive fifties.
Mithali is the only Indian player to have scored more than 1,000 runs in world cups. Six hundreds, 49 fifties at an average of 52, Mithali is often referred to as the Tendulkar of the women’s team. While Tendulkar played 171 innings to reach 6,000 ODI runs, Mithali did that in 164 innings. She is one of the few players to average over 50 in women’s cricket. That consistency is significant given the fact that women cricketers do not play as frequent as the men and the long gap between tournaments mean they almost always have to start afresh.
Evidently, given such odds, cricket is no easy game for India’s women players. And, Mithali’s story is no different either. India’s World Cup preparation was in news because Mithali was on the verge of making history. Yet, a journalist had the audacity to ask her who her favourite male cricketer was. Mithali known for watching very little cricket on TV wanted to know if they would ever ask the same question to a male cricketer, exposing the bias. With India’s Jhulan Goswami, Mithali forms the world’s leading run getter and wicket taker combo. The duo has been instrumental in India’s only appearance in Women’s World Cup finals. Yet, cricket in India remains largely a male sport. In a country were cricketers and cricket enjoy celestial status, the neglect for the women’s game is difficult to swallow.
Born in Jodhpur, Mithali, whose mother tongue is Tamil, started playing cricket at the age of 10. She learned the game from coaching camps in Hyderabad and made her international debut at age 17 when women’s cricket was a part time affair in India. Mithali’s strike rate is not recorded since the number of balls she faced were never recorded, as was the practice. Women’s cricket has gone leaps and bounds since then. Youngsters can take up cricket as a serious profession now and there is money in the sport.
That said, India’s batting on the international stage is more or less dependent on Mithali. In the post-match press conference on July 12 after another defeat to the Aussie despite her 62, Mithali came out openly on this. The opposition could attack Mithali relentlessly since they knew her wicket was key. Once she got out, whole Indian batting collapsed on many occasions. This often prevented her from experimenting with her own batting and she was forced to play within herself in the team’s larger interest. Her overall average is 52 which goes above 70 if we consider the matches India has won. While chasing targets, she scores at an average above 60 as well. These are astonishing numbers given that Mithali has played over a period of 18 years.
With a convincing win over New Zealand on July 15, Indian women have made it to the semifinals of the world cup where they will play the Australians again. Mithali has been great with the bat, scoring a hundred against the Kiwis. A world cup win can add another fittingly glorious chapter to her illustrious career. Given the form she is in, a positive result from England is definitely possible. Whatever be the outcome, Mithali Dorai Raj is arguably the greatest cricketer India has ever produced and deserves a place in Indian Cricket’s hall of fame alongside all those alpha-males.