After achieving several accolades and a long list of records in a glorious international career spanning nearly 23 years, Mithali Raj finally bid adieu to international cricket. Mithali is the highest run-getter in women’s cricket scoring 10,868 runs across all formats with eight centuries.
Just like the Indian men’s team got their prodigy in 1989 in form of Sachin Tendulkar, women’s cricket got its own in 1999. Her strokeplay was elegant, her shots were crisp and she dominated bowlers with her solid technique. Mithali Raj was the name who debuted in 1999 against Ireland and evolved into one of the batting maestros in World Cricket. The veteran batted at various positions for the team and also captained them. Mithali has bid farewell to international cricket almost 23 years later and will be known as one of the greatest women’s cricketers to walk on the face of the earth.
Mithali has several accolades to her name and has broken several records on her way to 333 international matches. She was born to a Tamil family in Jodhpur and was eventually forced into the game by a strict father. At the tender age of 16, she smashed unbeaten 114 runs and displayed her capability. In the coming years, she established herself as the lynchpin of the Indian batting unit. Her copybook style shots were mesmerising to watch and the credit for it goes to her former coach, the late Sampath Kumar, and a passion for Bharatanatyam which was reflected in her footwork while batting. Her elegance made her batting pleasing to the eyes of spectators and her ability to pierce gaps gathered runs.
Mithali scored her highest Test score of 214 (second-highest score in red-ball cricket) in 2002 against England. Also, she rates her knock of unbeaten 91 in the 2005 ODI World Cup semi-final very high. Mithali surpassed former England captain Charlotte Edwards to become the highest run-scorer in ODIs and the first woman to 6000 runs in the format during the 2017 World Cup. She has batted at all positions from opening to number 9 but turned out to be an excellent middle-order batter. While batting at three, she plundered 3758 runs at 50.78 and scored 3358 runs at 47.97 while batting at number four.
Speaking about her ODI records, Mithali is the most capped player(232) in ODIs along with being the highest run-getter. Also, she is the only female player to play in six ODI World Cups. The veteran batter enjoyed the longest career in women’s cricket and achieved several feats.
Many a times, players who are used to playing longer formats for the most part of their career find it difficult to maintain consistency in the shorter formats. However, Mithali’s consistency was just amazing in T20Is. She amassed 2364 runs from 84 innings at 37.52 in the shortest format scoring 17 fifties on the way. Also, she has an impressive record while opening the innings scoring 1340 runs from 42 innings at 40.60 and the highest score of 97*.
Along with being a top-notch batter, Mithali was also an excellent leader, She led the national team in 155 matches winning 89 out of them which is most by any player in ODIs. She also has a record of playing most matches as captain in women’s cricket. She has skippered India in 28 World Cup matches which is the highest count. Mithali has also led the team to two World Cup finals but the team lost the game on each occasion. The most historical moment for Mithali as a captain was when she led the national team to their first Test series win in England.
Mithali enjoyed a successful career but she was often criticized for her slow strike rate in the lateral stages. It was often said that her strike rate was restricting the team from posting big totals but the veteran batter felt that she was unfairly targeted and too much importance was given to strike rate.
“I think too much importance is given to strike rate by you all. In the Australia [ODI] series, the decider that Australia won, Beth Mooney scored her 50 in 80-odd balls, but went on to play a match-winning innings for the team (125 n.o. off 133 balls). I believe that cricket is a game played according to the situation on the ground,” She had said in a media interaction earlier this year.
Even at the back end of her career, Mithali was scoring runs with consistency when she faced a lot of flak for playing with a slow strike rate. She scored 503 runs from 10 innings in 2021 at 62.87 and scored 414 runs from 12 innings at 41.40 this year. Mithali was the run-scoring machine in the earlier part of her career but in the last couple of years, her experience became more crucial to the team, It is often overlooked that she was playing an anchor role for the team which allowed others to play freely. She used to assure the fans that the innings will not collapse as long as she is on the crease. Her greatness didn’t lie in her aggression but the ability to play according to the match situation was of top quality.
A recipient of the Arjuna Award, Padma Shri awardee, and winner of the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award in 2021, Mithali Raj has been one of the mainstays of the Indian women's team. With her retirement, she has left a huge void and it will be a difficult task for selectors who find a middle-order batter as solid and as elegant as Mithali in the near future.