Mithali Raj: The Queen of Indian Women’s Cricket

An Indian cricketer and former captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, Mithali Raj has been a star performer throughout her career.

In a land where cricket was predominantly a man’s game, a young girl from Jodhpur, Rajasthan dared to dream big, dared to hold the cricket bat, and dared to change the face of Indian women’s cricket forever. Her name is Mithali Raj.

An Indian cricketer and former captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, Mithali Raj has been a star performer throughout her 23-year-long career. She is an inspiration for many girls wishing to make a name for themselves in the cricketing world.

Raj can be considered a pioneer in popularising cricket as a sport for girls in India at a time when it was identified predominantly as a man’s game. Dismissing all misconceptions with her exuberant performance, she succeeded in etching her name in the memories of cricket fans in India and beyond.  

Early life and initiation into cricket

Mithali Raj was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan in 1982 to Dorai and Leela Raj. She did her schooling at Keyes High School for Girls in Hyderabad and later studied at Kasturba Gandhi Junior College for Women in Secunderabad.

Training in Bharatnatyam, playing cricket wasn’t a choice that the young Mithali made willingly. Strangely, her father who was an officer in the Indian Air Force made her accompany her brother to his cricket coaching just to ensure that she did not sleep till late. 

At the grounds, while she spent most of her time sitting by the boundary, at times she also tried her hand at knocking with the bat. Her style impressed a coach at the academy, Jyothi Prasad, who recognising her talent recommended her to Sampath Kumar. Thus began a journey that was to change the face of Indian women’s cricket forever. 

Under the tutelage of Sampath Kumar, Raj emerged as one of the most technically precise cricketers that the country has ever produced. Her upbringing in a strict army background accorded her the discipline that has been a bedrock of her career. 

Mithali began by playing for the Indian Railways. Making her ODI debut at the tender age of 16, she smashed an unbeaten 114 against Ireland, becoming the first and the only woman player to score a century in her debut match. In 2005, she was handed the captaincy of the national team.

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In the years following her debut, she adroitly established herself as a lynchpin of the Indian batting order. Her bat knew no limits when it came to beating runs on the pitch.

Records

Mithali Raj not only smashed a century in her debut match, she is the woman with the most runs in the game. Despite retiring from T20I in 2019, she continues to be India’s highest scorer in the format. In 2018, she also became the first cricketer to reach the 2000 runs mark in WT20Is.

In the 2017 ODI World Cup, she became the highest run-scorer in ODIs and the first woman to reach the 6000 runs milestone in the format. Currently, she is the only female cricketer to have 7000+ runs in women’s ODIs.  

Raj is the only Indian captain- male or female- to lead the team to two ODI World Cup finals, in 2005 and 2017 respectively. She also has an unbeaten seven consecutive half-centuries record in women’s cricket.  

Mithali Raj: Biography, Life Story, Cricketer, Profile, Awards,  information, achievement
Source: Sportsmatik

In a test match in 2002, she scored a massive 214 which was the highest in the format till then. In 2019 she also became the first woman cricketer to complete two decades in ODI. 

She played 24 matches as a captain in the World Cup in her career, which is the maximum for a player. In addition, she has the most number of wins as a captain in ODIs. She has also captained 150+ ODI matches, which is a feat in itself.

Mithali Raj’s records undoubtedly made her a force to reckon with in female cricket.   

Challenges faced by Mithali Raj

Achieving all this wasn’t an easy task for Raj as people, including her own grandparents, constantly dissuaded her from pursuing a male sport. She started playing cricket when it was still in its initial stages for women in the country. 

While men’s cricket was flourishing and male cricketers bathed in stardom and riches, women players had to struggle with poor quality equipment and facilities, and a severe lack of funds. The conditions they played under internationally were not available at home, hampering their training. 

The women waged their incessant fight with the system while continuing their upward stride in the sport. It was in 2005 that the BCCI brought women’s cricket under its umbrella and women cricketers were given central contracts only in 2016. 

However, it was the 2017 World Cup that actually brought limelight and national and international recognition to Indian women’s cricket. Yet, it took the BCCI another 5 years to equate the match fees of male and female cricketers in the country.

That notwithstanding, their annual salaries continue to be grossly unequal.   

Awards and honours

The government of India honoured Mithali Raj with the Arjun Award in 2004 and the Padma Shri in 2015. She was also awarded the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna in 2021.

Mithali Raj Khel Ratna Any recognition from the government is special: Mithali  Raj expresses gratitude after receiving Khel Ratna award | Cricket News
Source: Times Now

She has been awarded the Vogue Sportsperson of the Year award and the BBC 100 Women Award. Additionally, she received the Wisden Leading Woman Cricketer in the World Award in 2017.

Mithali Raj movie 

In 2022, the Srijit Mukherji-directed biopic of Raj ‘Shaabaash Mithuu’ was released nationally. The film stars Tapsee Pannu in the titular role. It tries to capture the various moments of ups and downs in the cricketer’s illustrious career.

While the film received mixed reviews from audiences, it was a major box office failure, garnering around Rs. 2.89 crores out of a budget of Rs. 48 crores. 

Mithali Raj was the face of Indian women’s cricket for more than two decades. Her laurels and her undying commitment to the sport are worthy of emulation by future generations of female cricketers. 

With her game, she set the stage for thousands of girls to showcase their brilliance to the outside world. Her contributions to cricket can definitely not be overlooked. 

Her retirement from the sport in 2022 brought down the curtains on one of the most distinguished careers in female cricket. It was the end of an era.

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About the Author

Shambhavi Srivastava

Shambhavi Srivastava is a Mass Communication master's student. She is an avid reader and believes in strongly voicing her opinions on various issues of national and international importance. She is a women's rights read more...

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