Cricket Was a Way to Get ‘Lazy’ Mithali Raj Into a Healthy Routine

Mithali Raj has led India in two World Cups, but how did her tryst with cricket even start?

3 min read
Did you know Mithali Raj learnt Bharatanatyam for 9 years? 

Mithali Raj grabbed the country’s attention when she led the Indian women’s cricket team to their second World Cup final in July this year. The last time the team had reached the same stage was in 2005, when Raj was playing her first tournament as skipper.

The 35-year-old was made vice-captain of the women’s cricket team after just two international tours and offered captaincy at 21, after which she opted to be the skipper in 2005. But way before that, years of hard work and sacrifice, and a chance meeting with cricket shaped Mithali into the woman she is today.

A 9-year-old Mithali picked up the bat when she used to accompany her brother to his cricket coaching lessons at the St John’s Cricket Academy in Secunderabad.

What I remember from my brother’s training days is that my father used to be cleaning his two-wheeler and I used to sit there and finish my maths sums, waiting under a tamarind tree. Every time the ball crossed the boundary I would throw it back to the fielder.
Mithali Raj to Livemint

However, her father – a retired airforce officer and cricket enthusiast – S Dorairaj told the Livemint that 5.30 am trips to the academy were just a way for him to get a “lazy” Mithali into a healthy routine.

Mithali was a lazy girl. She used to cry while waking up every morning. Every day used to start with crying. I was fed up and wanted to do something about it and put her into a healthy routine.
S Dorairaj to Livemint

Watching Mithali accompany her brother and father everyday, the academy’s coach Jyothi Prasad had then suggested that she too start playing the sport. The Hyderabad girl took to the game immediately and picked up the skills in no time, according to her father.

Sampath Kumar, Mithali’s coach at her Hyderabad school, too identified the cricketer’s talent and said that she would go on to play for India after coaching her for just three months.

He (Sampath Kumar) was the strictest coach I’ve come across. His training was like martial arts. He promised my parents that he would make me play for India by the age of 14. He wanted me to beat Sachin’s record (Sachin Tendulkar played for India when he was 16 years old).
Mithali Raj to Livemint

Mithali Raj went to make a mark at the Under-16, Under-19 and senior state teams before making her international debut against Ireland in June 1999.

The Sacrifices

It’s a little-known fact that Mithali learnt Bharatanatyam for eight years before sacrificing it to take up cricket full time.

Initially, dance was very difficult to let go because I pursued it for so long. It was a decision that needed to be taken. I couldn’t sail in two boats—cricket and dance. But it was a big sacrifice for the young girl. I was very inclined towards dance as a child. I enrolled myself, I wasn’t pushed into it. It came very naturally to me. I wanted to be a dancer. Cricket was obviously my father’s choice.
Mithali Raj to Livemint

But that wasn’t the only sacrifice in Mithali’s journey to greatness. The cricketer’s father, who worked with Andhra Bank after retiring from the Air Force, turned down a promotion so that the Mithali could stay in Hyderabad and continue her training. Also, Raj’s immediate family decided to move out of their joint family home so that the cricketer wasn’t a victim of her grandparent’s orthodoxy. Her mother, Leela Raj, made a sacrifice too. She quit her job to focus on Mithali.

Though her parents have never travelled with her on an international tour, Raj’s family struggled to acquire basic equipment at a time when getting sponsorship was a struggle. In fact, her father spent around Rs 25,000 for her first tour to England.

But each one of these sacrifices and every day of hard work contributed to the making of Mithali Raj, who went to become the highest ODI scorer and the first to reach the 6000-mark in women’s cricket .

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