The continuing success of Mithali Raj at the highest levels of international women’s cricket shows that despite the modern day tendency to give importance to youth in all sports, one must not forget that there are some experienced older players still out there who can pull their weight and deliver the goods.
Mithali Raj is now the highest scorer in women’s cricket in all formats and by overtaking former England skipper Charlotte Edwards’ total of 10,273 runs, the batter from Hyderabad has redefined the boundaries of age and fitness. Mithali achieved her record breaking feat during the third and final ODI against host England.
Former international cricketer Mohammad Kaif spoke out in support of Mithali almost as soon as she established the new record. Kaif tweeted: “Mithali Raj shows that in our excitement over young talent, we should not lose patience with our experienced stars. Encourage youth but don’t write off seniors. One of cricket’s oldest lessons.”
But records are nothing new to Mithali. She has in her bag more records than many players can dream of. Only a highly motivated player with a huge amount of self discipline can find the determination to pull out top notch performances day after day ignoring the passage of the years and the resulting toll on fitness.
But in the beginning, Mithali had not seemed to be the sort of person who would be able to climb to the topmost rung of international sport. As a child, she had loads of talent but the determination and discipline was perhaps driven into her by her father who was in the Air Force. Now she needs no more pushing. She has acquired the steel in her will power to make herself do the required hard work to stay at the top.
As a child, after school, she would hastily finish her homework and quickly take up a bat to face a few balls at the nets. However one of her coaches, P Jyothiprasad, a former Ranji trophy cricketer and one of Hyderabad’s top notch all rounders of his days, was impressed by her fluent strokeplay. Her movements were swift and sure and she had that ability to read the ball almost as soon as it left the bowler’s hands.
On her international debut at Milton Keynes, she scored a dazzling unbeaten 114 and the world realised that a new star had arrived. From that day on her motivation and discipline seemed to grow. And along with it grew her hunger for runs and success. She was no longer the little girl who liked to sleep till late in the morning and hurriedly went through the day’s work in a slapdash manner. Instead she became a calm and quiet athlete focussed on her task.
The transformation took place gradually but steadily. And as she changed, the records began to flow in her direction. Her superbly compiled 214 at a Test match in Taunton became what was then the highest score made in women’s cricket. It happened on 17th Aug, 2002 when the 19 year old Mithali, having played only three Tests in her budding career, compiled runs steadily and surely till she went past the then record of 209 which stood in the name of Karen Rolton of Australia.
Many years later, in an interview to Cricketcountry, Mithali said:
“As a player I was still very raw in terms of experience, so in those days, scoring 50 or 60 was a big thing, and I used to think that when I go to bat I should score a half-century. But that Test was something very different, there are so many things in the team you know, the composition of the team demanded that I stay there irrespective of what the total is. So it was more of staying there than scoring runs.”
Perhaps at this stage, when she broke the world record, Mithali herself realised that a whole new world lay before her and was ready to be conquered if she showed the will and the spirit to do it. It was then that Mithali developed that intense desire to reach the very top. She went on to become captain of the Indian team, leading the nation to Asia Cup victories and in the process breaking more personal records.
So now Mithali has conquered the world. She is at the top and like Alexander of Macedonia, has no more worlds to conquer. Will she stay motivated? What more can she achieve? That is a vital question which can only be answered by Mithali herself. But like all great sportspersons, it seems quite likely that Mithali will not be content to rest on her laurels. As long as she has the fitness and the coordination, it is likely that she will continue to hammer runs and keep the Indian Tricolour flying high all over the world.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.