Why is Mithali Raj Denied the Credit Due to Her?
Shanta Rangaswamy said that Mithali Raj's record is comparable to the achievements of Tendulkar & Sunil Gavaskar.
Mithali Raj has now scored 10,337 runs across formats in international cricket. This is the highest by any woman cricketer.
With 7,304 runs in ODI cricket, she is the leading run-scorer in the format, with no other player even having reached the 6,000-run mark.
Raj has scored the second-highest number of runs as captain in women's international cricket and also holds the record for the most 50-plus scores by a woman cricketer.
These are no ordinary stats. This is right in the alley of the God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, himself.
I am not one who generally draws parallels between men's and women's cricket because I genuinely feel that the two are different sports in themselves.
It's not particularly pleasant for me to hear that Shafali Verma is the new Virender Sehwag or that Deepti Sharma is quite like Ravindra Jadeja. It's like saying Kartik Aaryan is the new Ranbir Kapoor. No, let individuals be.
But, when I saw Mithali Raj rake in the runs with exemplary consistency in the three ODIs against England recently, I could not help but draw the Tendulkar parallel.
Remember how Tendulkar personified hope for us in the nineties and noughties? If he was at the crease, anything was possible. But without him, even the need for 30 runs off 25 balls sent shivers down our spines.
Add to that, the scale of the feats that Raj has registered over her prolific 22-year-long career. It wasn't even the same century when she first put on the India flannels.
Keeping the political correctness aside for a second, there is little doubt that Mithali Raj is the Sachin Tendulkar of women's cricket. There is absolutely no one else in the Indian cricketing context who she can be compared to, given the gravity of her all-time records, not even Virat Kohli, at least at the moment.
The thoughts gained prominence when former Indian captain and current member of the BCCI Apex Council Shanta Rangaswamy said that Mithali's record is comparable to the achievements of Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar.
Still doesn't sound right? Alright, let's word it a little differently. Sachin Tendulkar is the Mithali Raj of men's cricket. How about that?
The disparity in remuneration and fan following of men's and women's cricket is another matter. But why a legend like Mithali Raj – and I repeat, comparable only to Sachin Tendulkar in context of Indian cricket – does not get even half the credit is inexplicable.
If it's about her batting style or the low strike rate, may I attempt to burst the bubble? Let's not go too far back and stick with the three ODIs against England.
India had been put into bat first. The celebrated opening pair of Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma was back in the hut within the first powerplay. A batting collapse was on the cards.
What was Mithali supposed to do in the series opener when she was looking to set things up with the knowledge that the coming batter Harmanpreet Kaur had not had a good run since her iconic 2017 ODI World Cup semi-final blitz against Australia and only all-rounders were to follow?
Accepted, she did get a little bogged down and having another accumulator in Punam Raut at the other end did not help. Still, she almost made up for it at the end. 72 off 108 balls at a strike rate of over 65 is certainly not bad returns in a score of 201.
Second ODI. India bat first again. The team gets off to a good start with Mandhana and Verma adding 56. A collapse follows. Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur steady the innings between the 17th and the 33rd over, but the dismissal of the vice-captain triggers another collapse. There is not a lot Mithali can do at this point. If at all, she is looking to be a lot more proactive as compared to the first ODI. Ultimately, it was courtesy of her half-century that India reached 221.
It is odd that despite ending up as the top run-scorer for India in all three ODIs, she got a lot of flak for her strike rate. Can we get this straight: this is the role that Raj has been assigned by the team management, and to be candid, she is the most comfortable playing it. She is not Shafali Verma, but everyone does not need to be that.
You cannot go swinging for the hills with the top order gone and not much batting to follow. Being too critical about strike rates makes sense when there are other batters waiting in the shed to do the business, but when there is hardly anyone else contributing, forget about the strike rate and be thankful that somebody is getting the runs at least.
I doubt that India would have even made it to 200 on a single occasion in the ODIs had Raj not played an innings of note.
The aggressive field positioning by England captain Heather Knight also deserves mention. Knight successfully blocked Raj's single options with a ring field on both sides of the wicket. With the top batters gone, going over the top was too risky an option to take.
Raj's hand in the third ODI was an absolute gem. Many might have gone to sleep in the middle of India's chase after Harmanpreet's dismissal in the 34th over, but Mithali (75* off 86 balls, SR: 87.21) showed her range and smarts as she partnered with Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana to take India home.
It was fitting that, in all likelihood, her last knock in England – the same country where she began her ODI career in 1999 – was a near-perfect display of the Indian captain's finest attributes of crystal clear thinking, admirable handling of pressure, shepherding the youngsters and not playing to the gallery.
And, this was no flash in the pan. Raj averages 111.1 in successful ODI run chases. Quite like Dhoni... Okay, I get your point. No comparisons!
Just imagine the response Kohli or Tendulkar would have got, having taken India to a last-over finish against England in their own den.
If Mithali can get a dollop of that adulation, women's cricket will be on the right track. Mithali getting a biopic is not a bad start, though.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.