What would happen if you’re asked to name a female Indian cricketer? Fumble for a few moments? Rack your brains for that lady whose name you just can’t remember right now? Turn to Google?
Someone might mention Anjum Chopra, thanks to Doordarshan’s post match analysis programmes. How about Mithali Raj? Heard of her?
Mithali Raj, a name, known to perhaps only the cricketing fraternity and pundits, is MS Dhoni’s female counterpart. Then why do we not know of her? Simple. Because women are outsiders even within the context of cricket. Because ‘cricket’ by default means ‘men’s cricket’.
The nation has been gripped by the cricketing fever ever since Kapil Dev and his cohorts won the World Cup in 1983. But while we run around lauding Virat Kohli or Shikhar Dhawan, talk incessantly about their match saving tons and wait with bated breaths for the next match, let’s take a moment to reflect over the reasons why fame eludes their female counterparts, and ponder over our apparent apathy towards them.
Biography of Mithali Raj
Now aged 33, Mithali Raj took up the game of cricket when she was just 10. Born into the family of an Air Force officer in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, the right handed batswoman, Mithali has amassed over 4,800 runs in One Day Internationals, with a batting average of 48.88. From a career spanning over 16 years, she has five tons and 36 half centuries to her name. She initially played for Hyderabad age-group teams, and was later fielded by Railways and then by Air India, wherein she played alongside the likes of Anjum Chopra and Anju Jain. In 1997, at 14, she was picked up as the first standby for the World Cup.
In a country where even gully cricket is exclusive to boys, she took the cricketing world by storm upon her debut. On June 26, 1999, at the tender age of 17, she scored an unbeaten 114 against Ireland at Milton Keynes.
She announced herself into the arena of Test cricket by rewriting the record books in just her third match.
Mithali battered Karen Rolton’s record of the highest individual test score (209 n.o. against England in 2001) with her 214 from 407 balls (the fourth most number of deliveries faced by any player) against England in 2002. The rookie took over the pro and in 2003 she was awarded the Arjuna Awardee.
Mithali’s Golden Raj
Under her captaincy, the team made it to the 2005 World Cup finals in South Africa, where they lost against the formidable Australians.
This was followed by India’s first test victory in England, when they got the better of their rivals in Taunton by five wickets. Mithali, along with Chopra (who lost out on a century by 2 runs) steered the team to victory. This was also India’s second series win (the first coming against South Africa in 2002).
In 2008, Mithali captained the side to its fourth consecutive Asia Cup victory. However, the team hit a dry run later on, losing in the first round of the World Cup in 2013. The only consolation was that Mithali was ranked number one batswoman in the World, prior to the ICC Women’s World Cup 2013.
Hiatus of Eight Years for Test Cricket
Last year in August, she led the side to a historic win against England in their own backyard- a commendable feat given that this was the Test debut of eight players. And they won- against the current Ashes champions, in a format they were playing after eight years (Mithali had led the team to victory in the previous one too). We come across an interesting corollary here. If Test Cricket is endangered in the men’s category, it is more or less extinct in the women’s!
Recently, in January 2015, she was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award for her outstanding achievements to the sport.
It takes a lot of effort to break the glass ceiling. Mithali has shown the mental strength and tenacity to be considered amongst India’s batting greats. Maybe one day we will also find posters of a Mithali adorning the walls of cricket fans.