THERE’s a picture of Mithali Raj from the ongoing Women’s World Cup in England that has gone viral on social media. It showed the India captain completely immersed in reading a book on the sidelines, as she waited for her turn to bat. It was a poignant frame, one that exuded a sense of innate calm. It was also, in many ways, a complete contrast to the mayhem that India opener Smriti Mandhana had unleashed upon English bowlers in India’s opening game of the World Cup. That frame, not surprisingly, got countless re-tweets, and along with the hashtag ‘Captain Cool’, was trending big time on the internet. Mithali did justice to her new-found mantle, stroking a sparkling 71 in that game, her seventh consecutive half-century in ODIs, a record in women’s cricket. Her efforts paved the way for a pretty comprehensive victory over the hosts. Mithali Raj becomes first women to score 6000 runs in ODI cricket
Mithali’s frame from the county ground in Derby may have surprised her fans, but her team-mates and others who knew her personally informed that Mithali is a voracious reader. “It’s not surprising, to be honest. She loves to read, and always carries a book in her kit bag during her long international tours,” said former India player Snehal Pradhan. Reading before going out to bat, Snehal said, helped her switch off and relax during a match. Reading had indeed proved to be cathartic for Mithali. In her 18-year international career, she has gone from strength to strength, smashing one international record after another. On Wednesday in Bristol, during India’s sixth World Cup match against Australia, the 34-year-old notched up yet another milestone, when she overtook former England captain Charlotte Edwards’ tally of 5,992 runs to become the highest run-scorer in ODIs. En route her knock of 69, she reached the coveted landmark of 6,000 runs in this format. It was only fitting that she would get there with an effortless six off Australian leg-spinner Kirsten Beams.
The mountain of runs is testimony to Mithali’s longevity and unflinching passion towards the game and her team.”There is an inherent clarity of thought that emanates in her batting. She is technically very correct, and is blessed with the gift of timing. She knows when to accelerate, and when to defend. She is extremely well organised as a person, and this personality trait extends to her batting as well. This is precisely what has kept her in good stead all these years,” Snehal opined about her former captain. Mithali displayed the same astute sense and insatiable appetite for big scores in domestic cricket. “Even in domestic matches, if you don’t get her out in the first 20 balls…it’s over. She would invariably go on to make a big score,” Snehal, who had played against Mithali in numerous domestic games, noted.
Those who saw her during her ODI debut against Ireland in the summer of 1999, knew she was a special talent. But over the course of the next 18 years, she has gone on to exceed expectations of observers and critics alike, scoring runs with monotonous consistency. Even the pressure of captaincy rarely dimmed her calm demeanour. If anything, it only spurred her to perform. “She was the best batter in the side, and when she was appointed captain, she marshalled her resources admirably – being level-headed and pragmatic, and never being overtly critical of players who were not performing to their potential,” Snehal said.
Mithali’s litmus test as a player came in 2008, when she was controversially removed as captain, and replaced by the experienced Jhulan Goswami. “Her removal as captain did not in any way affect her relationship with Jhulan. She continued to play for the team. She is very good at distinguishing between her professional and personal responsibilities,” Snehal added. Despite crossing such lofty personal landmarks, Mithali’s effervescent knock of 69 at Bristol on Wednesday proved to be futile as India went down to Australia by eight wickets. India’s shoddy batting against Australia was a grim reminder and throwback to those catastrophic matches in the mid-noughties, when Mithali would be the lone batting lynchpin in the line-up. Once the opposition dismissed her, the rest would simply fold up without an ounce of fight.
Over the course of the last decade, India’s women’s team has thrown up some very talented batters, who could complement their shining star. Smriti Mandhana, Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur are among the few who have reduced the burden on Mithali. However, against the resilience of the Australians, these girls just wilted. If India has to reach the play-offs, and the next match against New Zealand is a do-or-die contest in that regard, India’s captain would want her misfiring middle order to fire big time to revive their World Cup campaign.