It was June 24, 2017. India women’s were opening their ODI world cup campaign against a side that would eventually win the prestigious cup to emerge champions of the world.
Batting first, Mandhana and Raut were ensuring an English rout. Inside 25 overs, India had touched 140 and were going strong.
That’s precisely when the cameras captured something rather captivating. Interestingly, it had nothing to do with what was going on over the 22 yards; the shutterbugs saw the Indian captain sitting in the open green space outside the boundary ropes but with a book in hand.
Absolutely unfazed by what was happening on the pitch, Mithali Raj was captured reading a book, her eyes keenly transfixed by the literature that occupied her hands whilst there was a bat that rested next to her.
What would soon send social media into an overdrive was the realisation that the next batswoman in was Raj. True to her calm and understated fashion, she went onto to score an effective 71. It came off only 73 deliveries. India went on to win the game.
And the next day, Mithali Raj only offered polite smiles when being asked repeatedly about the subject of her read.
It turned out, it was one of works of the Persian legend Rumi.
Cut to 2022.
India faced the defending champions, England on March 16 in a crucial World cup encounter and an encounter with the unforeseen it surely turned out to be.
The cameras yet again captured an alluring shot. It was not related to any exploit on the crease, but off it; Mithali Raj was in the frame. Her cricket bat next to her cricket bat and in her hands, a book yet again.
She was completely absorbed and typically unfazed yet again.
But unlike the last time around, the Indian captain walked out to the crease with her team in all sorts of trouble.
What she contributed wasn’t a typically eye-pleasing seventy or something. In fact, she didn’t raise her bat to acknowledge a fifty. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even touch double figures.
Mithali Raj was out for a solitary run.
In a career where there haven’t been too many tactical mistakes and perhaps only a solitary series or two where she’s seemed completely out of sorts, the Women’s Cricket World Cup of 2022 has underlined a litany of woes for the experienced campaigner.
Rather incredibly, for someone whose career average (ODIs) is over 50, it paints an unspectacular picture to note that all Mithali Raj has managed thus far in the series are 46 runs.
Her best score remains that 31 against the White Ferns and moreover, there have been three outings with the bat that have yielded single-digit scores.
Surely not something that shutterbugs would be interested to capture. Surely not stats that paint a mighty figure of the women’s game in exuberant colours.
At a time where India are fast approaching, much like the West Indies and the White Ferns the race to the final four, not having India’s prememinet batswoman in form is troubling.
It’s concerning at a different level. And yet, the woeful current form begs a question or two that only Mithali Raj can offer a valid answer for.
Has age finally caught up with a glowing legend of not just Indian cricket but world cricket?
At 39 and with 330 international appearances against her name, is Mithali Raj tired?
On the face of it, it wouldn’t seem so. The love to hone responsibility for India, to follow the cricket and to bat for her country is still very much evident.
Here’s a sartorial reminder of that.
In the game that featured Proteas women against England, Mithali Raj dressed in an exquisite top and pink trousers was seen along with her girl gang from the Indian team, including Meghna Singh and Yastika Bhatia.
The fact that she was herself playing the elite tournament and yet made time to soak in a live contest does underline her love for the sport.
Here’s the second question albeit a largely polarising one.
Is Mithali’s slow scoring actually putting herself under pressure and in effect, enforcing an error?
The second question tends to be more in the realm of reality. Here’s how.
In the game against New Zealand, Mithali Raj walked out to bat in the tenth over. India were 2 down for 26. With a need to repair the inning, she had to be watchful- if not assertive.
In the end, she consumed 9 overs on her own and went back after scoring 31. If they were batting first, then the patience shown at repairing an inning would’ve seemed worth its time but this was a run-chase and with 261 needed, India had to up the ante of scoring not further slow it down.
Surprisingly, in the contest against the West Indies, Mithali was out in a very un-Mithali like fashion, scooping an easy catch to mid-wicket. She had opened her account after facing four deliveries and took eleven to score five.
Though to be honest, two low scores from four games would certainly haven’t seemed all that odd. But four low scores in as many games is not a random cricketing event; it’s an aberration that needs some addressing.
What actually birthed the ‘Is-Mithali-batting-too-slow‘ saga, an ongoing, if not raging, social media debate is her outing against archrivals, Pakistan.
Mithali actually took 6 overs to make a painfully low score of 9 and that’s where you’d reckon the talks took flight.
To her credit, the dogged right hander associated with rock-solid defense and copybook drives has 7,669 ODI runs, the most in the history of the women’s game.
What made the once little known Jodhpur-born ‘Mithu’ an all-time great of the white- ball game is a love affair with Cricket that has lasted for 23 years.
Where you ought to regard a true champion of India is the fact that she’s been playing all formats of the sport, excelling in all three, not solely one.
Good players make runs in one format but the greats thrive across formats. For someone who’s not been among the runs of late, it helps to know Mithali’s impact even in cricket’s wham-bam and bowler-bashing fiesta, where she commands an average of 37 in T20Is.
Though what threatens to spoil what has been a great legacy is the series of low scores that the batter is still to get on top of.
Moreover, what doesn’t help is that Mithali’s career unlike the Mandhanas, Bhatiyas, Vastrakars, and Vermas of the world, is on its last legs.
What’ll certainly provide a massive antidote effect is just ‘one good knock,’ that Mithali’s colleagues including Jhulan Goswami are of the view.
But the question is, can that good knock occur in this world cup. For if not, the trailblazing women’s tournament will bring an inglorious end to a career that’s been undoubtedly glorious all these years.