The Wormsley feat

India’s victory in the one-off Test against England was special for Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Karuna Jain, for they were also part of the team that scored a historic first Test win against England at Taunton in August 2006, writes G. Viswanath.

Playing in flannels for the first time in eight years, Indian women put up a commanding display to beat England by six wickets in the one-off Test at Sir Paul Getty’s Ground, Wormsley. The brilliant Mithali Raj was in the vanguard of India’s wonderful campaign.

After being dismissed for four in the first innings, Mithali, who has proved to be a thorn in the flesh of many opponents in the last one-and-a-half decades, defended stoutly for nearly three-and-a-half hours, faced 157 balls and struck only four fours in her match-winning unbeaten 50. The important thing, however, was that the 31-year-old seasoned campaigner anchored India to a memorable win against a team playing for the first time as professional cricketers, having been given a central contract by the ECB last May.

It was a particularly happy time for Mithali, Jhulan Goswami and Karuna Jain, who were also part of the Indian team that scored a historic first Test win against England at Taunton in August 2006. Mithali, who was the captain then, made 65 in the first innings and was in the thick of the action in the second, scoring an unbeaten 22, as India marched to victory.

After the extraordinary win at Wormsley, Mithali expressed happiness that she was able to play in a Test before hanging up her boots, because it is unlikely that India will play another Test anytime soon. The score-sheet points to a good teamwork by India, with medium pacers Niranjana Nagarajan and Goswami doing exemplary work, and others such as Shubhlakshmi Sharma, Shikha Pandey and Ekta Bisht chipping in with timely wickets to bowl out England for 92 and 202.

India’s openers M. D. Thirush Kamini and Smriti Mandhana showed the way by putting on 40 (first innings) and 76 (second innings) for the first wicket, while Mithali took charge at the business end of the match with support from Shikha.

The emphatic win, once again, put the focus on Mithali, who has been India’s top-notch performer in Test cricket, one-day internationals and T20s. She may be a touch disappointed at not making it to the shortlist for the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year award. However, her impressive numbers such as 626 runs at 52.16 (505 against England) in nine Test matches, 4791 runs in 148 ODIs at 50.43 and 1227 runs in 46 T20s at 37.18 give a fair indication of the way in which Mithali has dominated the scene for 15 years.

Former India captain Shubhangi Kulkarni, who has seen Mithali develop as a confident cricketer, says: “She has taken Indian women’s cricket to a new level. She has consistently been top-ranked in the world and has worked hard to get there. She has always led the team from the front in many crucial matches and ensured that the team has been amongst the top. Her single-minded devotion sets her apart from the others. She is the most stylish batswoman, who makes batting look very easy.

“She has been absolutely dedicated and passionate about her cricket from a very young age. Earlier, she would focus on her skills, but as she got older, she paid more attention to fitness, which she is very sincere about. Mithali sets targets and goes about achieving it. She has earned a lot of respect from the opposition for her ability to clinically demolish attacks. One doesn’t see her mixing around much, she does things in a quiet manner. She is a huge influence on her team-mates.

The Indian team was always amongst the top four, but beating England, Australia and New Zealand was very rare until Mithali came in. The team reached the final of the World Cup in 2005 under her captaincy. India has been a team to reckon with ever since her arrival.’’

Indian women’s cricket is filled with outstanding players and clearly, on merit alone, Mithali stands head and shoulders above the rest.