That it took a statistical accomplishment to applaud the value of Mithali Raj speaks volumes of the relative invisibility of women’s cricket. She has been playing for 18 years and has fashioned some of India’s most famous wins — but it hardly seemed to matter. Now that she has become the highest run-getter and the first to score 6,000 runs in women’s cricket, it’s time she got some well-deserved spotlight. It’s also the right moment to put her feat in perspective, and not view it through the prism of men’s cricket.
In case you can’t resist the temptation to compare her record with men’s cricket, she would have been the 13th fastest to the 6,000-run mark, and achieved it at a faster clip than M.S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag. But it’s more instructive to see how women’s cricket in India has evolved with her. When she made her debut, back in 1999, women’s cricket wasn’t as competitive as it is now, and India was far from a competitive side. Their wages were at best modest, representing the country just gave pride and little else materially, and they tracelessly vanished after a few years. There, of course, were fine cricketers like Anjum Chopra and Neetu David, and before them Purnima Rau, Anju Jain, Diana Edulji and Shanta Rangaswamy. But none perhaps was as influential in capturing the imagination of a generation as Mithali.
India’s first Test series win over England in 2006 is memorable but more importantly, she drilled into her teammates a self-belief that charted India’s transformation from underdogs to competitors. In her own remarkable way, she inspired a generation of young cricketers too — no wonder then that most of her teammates in the team swear that she’s their idol, mentor and confidante. They find their collective voice in her. So does, metaphorically, women’s cricket in the country. For all these reasons, she is India’s first superstar woman cricketer. Her statistical feat should be celebrated for more reasons than one.