Updated: July 6, 2021 8:12:16 am
As the enormity of her historic achievement sinks in a couple of days after she became the highest woman run-getter in cricket, it’s a good time to look at Mithali Raj’s incredible journey. She started her career 22 years ago in the shadows of anonymity to which women’s cricket is generally relegated. Through remarkable performances, she forced others to look at her and the women’s game afresh. And even as she earned loyalty and adulation, she has also handled a fair bit of criticism.
A debut hundred as a 16-year old in 1999, the youngest Indian captain at 21 years, the first to lead India to a series win in England, the first to lead India to two world cup finals, and in 2015 awarded the Padma Shri. As a batter, she has always been compact, with a very tight technique, and a lovely fluid square drive, and above all, a rarely seen hunger for runs. The technique of women batters has evolved in her two decades: A loosening of stiffness of minds and hence the arms, as evidenced in the more daring and fluent bat swings in the younger batters. Mithali started in an era when durability was valued over strike rates, which was reflected in her own game, and which dragged in criticism in recent years.
Other issues started to surface too. In his earlier stint as head coach, Ramesh Powar would say Mithali was “blackmailing” and “pressurising coaches” and talked about her “tantrums”. Other coaches have also made allegations. She, too, has had her say. But Powar is back as coach now. Post the Padma Shri, she began to be slowly elbowed into a corner. However, in the bigger scheme of things, it’s been an awe-inspiring ride for someone who only played the game to “please her parents” and who had initially dabbled with becoming a Bharatnatyam dancer or entering the civil services. Instead, she became the crown jewel of women’s cricket.