2017’s top 10 — Mithali Raj: 20 years on, the fire still burns

Mithali Raj, the first batswoman to score 6000 runs in One-Day International cricket, has proved time and again her worth to the team, shepherding a young side to unexpected glories.

Her name is synonymous with women’s cricket in India, thanks to her performances at the highest level. Mithali Raj, who has led India to two World Cup finals (2005 and 2017), has been an epitome of class and consistency.

Mithali, the first batswoman to score 6000 runs in One-Day International cricket, has proved time and again her worth to the team, shepherding a young side to unexpected glories.

The Indian women’s team's run to the ICC World Cup final in England in July created a frenzy back home, with fans staying glued to the television sets, expecting a title triumph from the Women in Blue.

India, however, lost the final to England by nine runs after failing to hold on to its nerve, despite having the upper hand almost throughout the game. The skipper got out cheaply in the summit clash, but accumulated 409 runs in the competition at an average of 45.44.

The laurels

Captain in two World Cup finals

First Indian cricketer

6190 ODI runs

Highest run scorer

Seven consecutive half-centuries in ODIs

Record

409 in 2017 World Cup

Second highest

 

'More girls look at cricket as career option'

Mithali Raj has had a busy schedule since she led her side to the World Cup final. The 35-year-old, however found time to share her thoughts on what was a special year for her and the team.

How do you rate India's performances in 2017?

We had a good run this year, starting with the Quadrangular Series and the World Cup qualifiers in Colombo. These helped the team do well in the World Cup in England as we had the momentum. More importantly, the players understood the need of the hour and reacted well.

What is the most satisfying aspect of the women’s game now?

The popularity the women cricketers are enjoying after the World Cup show... the win against England in the league stage and the victories against New Zealand and Australia in the knockout phase were memorable indeed.

The highlight of the World Cup campaign in England...

The way we came back after a couple of losses. Usually, when we lose, we go down further. We were the only side dependent on points to qualify for the knockout as the other teams had a better Net Run Rate. It was a terrific display by the girls.

The positives from the World Cup...

We were looked at with more respect and also enjoyed immense popularity. Individually, there were many seniors who made their presence felt, but if I have to pick one young talent for special mention, it would be the 20-year-old Deepti Sharma. She came into the team just before the Quadrangular early this year. Deepti bats in the middle-order, is a very good fielder and an effective offie too. She lent crucial support, and we always looked to her to turn it our way. The rest of the side was quite experienced, particularly players like pacer Jhulan Goswami and all-rounder Harmanpreet Kaur. Harmanpreet's brilliant century (171 off 115 balls) against Australia in the semifinal will be etched in memory for long. It was one of the greatest one-day knocks I have ever seen in my 20 years at the international level.

Was this World Cup the best in your career?

Yes, in terms of recognition, but it is important to see how it shapes. Definitely, it is imperative for the team to play quality cricket and have the matches televised so that more people watch us in action. We simply have to keep playing good cricket. In this context, I feel the next two series, particularly the one in South Africa early next year, would be very important and give a hint of things to come.

The biggest impact of the World Cup...

More girls are looking at cricket as a career option and people connect to women’s cricket a lot more. I must admit that the live streaming on TV has brought viewership, fan-following and brand value to the women cricketers.