In order to extend full respect to women’s cricket, the first line of thought warrants one to adapt to a shift in thinking.
It demands that one mustn’t categorize and hence, promote a way for biases to cloud judgment, restricting the collective beauty of sport, by making it gender-specific ‘women’s cricket’
Because the moment you do so, you also tend to blend your personal opinions into your approach of appreciating a great game which is a global unifier; a provider of unmatched thrill, a giver of hope to talents and communities.
But the rise of cricketers like Mithali Raj and Mithali Raj’s achievements have warranted a positive change in the direction of appreciating all that women are bringing to a sport that, funnily, if were to be addressed as “Men’s cricket” universally- and not as anything else – wouldn’t have had record-breaking feats being contributed by a gender considered weak for the physical rigors of the sport.
And nothing bears true testimony to the rise of women’s participation in a game often viewed one-dimensionally than taking pride in all that Mithali Raj has stood for and as a matter of fact, in Mithali Raj’s achievements.
Why she’s a hero
A hero, Christopher Nolan’s Batman exclaims, can be “anyone!” We’ve also come to hear, in this age of incessant social media communication, that not all heroes wear capes.
So if that’s true then who says a hero can’t be a woman? Mithali Raj, who turns 37, someone widely-identified as a heroical figure in the world of international cricket is the author and architect of a career whose persistence and efforts would inspire envy long after the earnest Jodhpur-born places her bat against the wall, for good.
Because in Mithali Raj’s achievements and a career built on the painstaking tedium required to excel in Cricket, rests one of the glorious chapters of the sport’s journey in India, a country where not a day can be imagined without a bat and a ball.
Mithali Raj arrived in the sport long back in time, a time where there was no such thing as a T20 international and none had heard about franchise T20 leagues. She would immediately draw attention for her ability to focus for long hours and the class her batting exuded.
Just how many cricketers go onto score a hundred on debut?
Mithali did this exactly when she scored a 114 at Milton Keynes, against Ireland, giving the likes of Shillington, Dawson, and Joyce a full expanse of her strokes on either side of the wicket.
Mithali, it must also be said, was among the huge beneficiaries of playing hard-fought Test Cricket, a format that teaches one to endure, compels one to learn the art of patience, and argues for the application of discipline, trading exuberance.
And Mithali Raj’s achievements in the longer format actually stand as worthy of our appreciation as do her feats in shorter forms.
Her 214 in 2002, an inning laced with grace amplifies Mithali Raj’s achievements in the longest form, considered a classical format to measure the caliber of a cricketer.
That she stayed at the crease for 598 minutes against England comprising of Guha, Nickey Shaw, was the kind of stay we’ve seen modern stroke makers in Lara, Dravid, Sangakarra exemplify time and again.
It also bears testimony to her true grit and strength of character, perhaps values that may not hold much for every cricketer vis-a-vis high strike rates in the game.
In a game that one who fluently adapted to different formats
While Mithali scored 663 from the 10 Tests she featured in, at 51, crossing a hundred and fifty mark in half of those innings, (1 century), the right-hander has gone onto blend beautifully into the limited-overs format- nearly 7,000 runs from 209 ODIs- changing gears from red-ball cricket to white-ball cricket akin to changing gears as per the changing vagaries of the contest.
The thespian who challenged herself to bat for long periods in Tests went onto assert a position of influence in the limited-overs too, the dead-pan front foot defence against the red-ball being as worthy of used as wallpaper material as the lofted strokes in 50 over contests, where her records are second to none.
But implicit in Mithali Raj’s achievements- the leading run-scorer in all formats for India- also rests her penchant to make headlines in the shortest form, a format she discontinued playing only in September 2019, but not before scoring 17 fifties and collecting over 2,300 runs.