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The Amazing Mithali Raj

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Mithali_Raj_IndiaEngland have won what seemed destined to be, till a few hours ago, Mithali Raj’s trophy. Well deserved for Heather Knight’s girls, whilst my heart goes out to India’s cricketers, who couldn’t reach what seemed initially an achievable target.

Fans lament that it was the finest chance for India’s Women’s team to bag the Women’s World Cup 2017

It was also a fine opportunity for Mithali Raj, scorer of over 6,000 ODI runs, the most in the women’s game, to collect a trophy at cricket’s greatest stage. 

So what’s the plan ahead? 

As fans, are you going to sit and rue endlessly about the missed opportunity? 

Or would you rather focus on the achievements that India’s Women’s team garnered under the calm and collected leadership of their 34-year-old captain? 

 

Mithali Raj is one of the coolest minds in the game. She captained India in a tournament where no one rated her side and led them all the way to the final. Indeed, to within 10 runs of victory. In the run up to the final, she had collected an impressive 392 runs, including 3 fifties and 1 hundred, blazing a trail that many would want to follow.

 

The fact that many of Mithali’s successful, multi-talented contemporaries – including West Indies’ Stafanie Taylor and South Africa’s Dane Van Niekerk – didn’t even reach 200 runs in the just-concluded tournament speaks as much of their abilities to deliver at the highest stage as it does of Raj’s ability to lead from the front.

Mithali’s group stage knocks of 71 against England, 46 against the West Indies, 53 against Sri Lanka and that enormously important 109 versus New Zealand highlight her contribution in a series that was fought with patience and grit, if not diligence- given India’s capitulation against Knight’s England, an encounter that might be lamented for years as a dreadful run-chase. 

Purists will feel no awe on watching what looked like Mithali’s rather lazy stroll to the keeper’s end that saw the right-hander run out for a highly unlikely single. At the other end, Raj’s partner -Raut- wouldn’t be too proud that even her 86, almost forty percent of India’s final total, wasn’t enough to take the subcontinent team home.

But that’s Cricket. 

Losing hurts a great deal more after coming so close to reaching the not-impossible target of 229. 

The question worthy of a healthy discussion is how much we value and regard the contribution of a cricketer; a cricketer every bit as determined as a hawk is to catch its prey: calm, sedately expressive and silently focused.

Mithali’s statistical achievements offer some perspective.

When the likes of Ponting, Lara and Sachin dominated cricketing discussions in 1999, Mithali Raj’s 18-year long career began. What has been consistent since then is the sense of a performer determined to leave her mark. 

And she has left an unforgettable one on the game.

Matches

186

Innings

167

Not Outs

47

Runs

6190

High Score

114*

Average

51.58

100s

6

50s

49

She became India’s go-to batter in a crisis, seeing generations change from Reshma Gandhi in 1999 to Anjum Chopra to her own leadership in the recent past. Mithali has been a constant figure of inspiration in a game of consistent uncertainties. 

Today, as the national women’s team is riding on the powers of mercurial opening batter Smriti Mandhana and middle order powerhouse Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali’s not done yet.

 

While fans raised on a constant diet of T20 styled entertainment would misinterpret Raj’s wondrous gathering of 6,190 ODI runs, the moment you notice that the next highest run scorer still playing is Windies’ captain Taylor with 3911 ODI runs (over 2000 runs behind), a realization begins to seep in.

 

Mithali Raj’s glory lies in more than just impressive statistics. In the heart of the dutiful, graceful and hard-fighting leader lies an inquisitive, run-hungry batter, who’s as hungry to score as she is to nourish matters of the mind.

Not that you’d have to be a Rumi to understand the depth in the simple beauty of the poet’s “What you seek is seeking you.” 

Consider the depths of Raj’s intellectual musings as you recollect how unperturbed she was as she sat, nonchalant, on that breezy English afternoon of June 24 as her team made mock of England’s bowling in their campaign opener. 

A few minutes later, after she was reading from Rumi’s best works- a sight that became a media spectacle a day later- Raj was the figure of poise as she in crafting an important and match-winning 71. 

You’d wish that such a feat would play itself out at Lord’s on July 23, almost exactly a month later. But when you realize that the journey in the middle, punctuated regularly by the accumulation of runs dutifully essays a career that’s second to none in reaching great heights, you begin to understand and appreciate the hitherto often unsung career of India’s Mithali Raj.

Raj didn’t fall prey to the cunning accuracy of England’s Gunn. She didn’t succumb to Stafanie Taylor’s guile. Nor did she drop her weapons in front of Meg Lanning’s Australia, an opposition that managed to contain and limit her to just 36 studiously collected runs.

 

What you have in Mithali Raj is a graceful exponent of the art of batting. Someone who is a tireless leader. Someone who smashes runs at an average of nearly 52. Someone who holds the record for youngest player to strike a hundred, doing so on her ODI debut versus Ireland in 1999. Someone who has taken forward the Indian women’s game to a level playing field with bright accomplishments such as her striking of 7 fifties in a calendar year (2017). 

 

These stats offer only a glimpse of her expanse of talent. In the way Mithali Raj has so often sent her opponents packing in a gritty, dedicated 18-year stint, it can’t be denied that she holds achievements that would delight the leading lights of a sport that is often focused on the achievements of the males.

 

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