On top of the world

AP

“(Being ranked) World No. 1 is significant for it gives a wonderful feeling. A nice feeling that your consistency is being recognised,” says Mithali Raj, who has moved to the top of the ICC Women’s Rankings. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Mithali Raj is on top of the world, literally. The former India women’s cricket captain is ranked World No. 1 as per the latest ICC rankings. It took a while for the player to realise this — she even mistook it to be a joke being played on her. But finally when she got the news confirmed with her father, Dorai Raj, the 26-year-old Hyderabadi, who was playing in a tournament in Varanasi at that time, was elated.

“Well, I got it right, honestly I was shocked and surprised to hear the news,” said Mithali in an exclusive chat with Sportstar.

“Definitely, I thought it would be difficult to even think about it since we are not playing that much of international cricket to be in the reckoning for such things,” she said.

“However, the World No.1 ranking is significant for it gives a wonderful feeling. A nice feeling that your consistency is being recognised at the highest level,” said Mithali, who is an Office Superintendent-I in South Central Railway.

For someone who had made her international debut in 2002 at the age of 19 but has played only eight Tests when compared to 115 ODIs (3549 runs at a healthy average of 47.32), Mithali is of the view that it is time there are more Tests for women.

Her concern is understandable, for she once held the record for the best Test score of 214 (against England in 2002 at the age of 19). “But again, I feel it is the decision of the BCCI to ensure that the game still draws crowds by hosting more limited-over games. And if that is the case, we have no choice,” she pointed out. “Right now, it is almost four years since we played our last Test,” she added.

Mithali, who learnt the basics of the game from the late coach Sampath Kumar, had led India to victory in the Asia Cup and the first-ever Test series win in England in 2006. She also captained India to the World Cup final in 2005.

Does she feel more relaxed now without the burden of captaincy?

“Well, I don’t think it made much of a difference as a player. May be now, I don’t think of setting the field or think of the huge responsibility as a captain. But as a senior player I do shoulder the responsibility in batting and I always try to give more than 100 per cent,” said Mithali, who gave up classical dancing to become a cricketer.

Is there anything that she wants to achieve?

“One thing which we have never won is a World Cup. That dream remains elusive. Hope at least India hosts the T20 World Cup next April. Then we should fulfil our dream since if that happens we will be playing in familiar conditions and in front of home crowds,” said Mithali.

On the future of women’s cricket, Mithali said: “It is definitely brighter now. There can be improvements like having more international series, especially prior to a World Cup. Otherwise it is always difficult to change gears from domestic cricket to that grade of cricket in the space of a few days.”

Did she ever think of quitting the game?

“Yes, there were quite a few lows and the worst was during the tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2007. I was getting out in the 20s and was terribly frustrated and even the team was not doing well,” Mithali recalled. “But my mother encouraged me, saying that I should stop playing the game only if I didn’t enjoy it. ‘Failures are part of anyone’s career and they can never be the reason for anybody’s decision to quit,’ she told me.”

Who is her role model?

“I think more than the cricketing aspect, the commitment of Sachin Tendulkar is what inspires me again and again. It is not easy to keep going for 20 years in international cricket — which is very demanding — and still give the youngsters a run for their money,” said Mithali.