When Mithali and history repeated themselves!

Mithali Raj... a pillar of Indian women’s cricket.-V.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

Mithali Raj is stealing the thunder for leading the Indian women’s cricket team to a meritorious Test match win against England. By G. Viswanath.

Mithali Raj has been the proud torchbearer of Indian women’s cricket for 15 years. She is also in the exalted company of sportswomen who have made news with sparkling performances. While the gifted Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and Koneru Humpy have emerged with flying colours in the exacting Olympic sports like tennis and badminton and the cerebral sport of chess, Mithali has found her metier in cricket and the wonderful team game has given her the chance to be a successful leader.

The rise of the lanky badminton player P. V. Sindhu, budding gymnastics star Dipa Karmarkar and pistol shooter Rahi Sarnobat has bode well for Indian sports, but as of now Mithali is stealing the thunder for leading the Indian team to a meritorious Test match win against England.

Slenderly built, with a conspicuous dark, flowing mane, the 31-year-old Jodhpur-born and Hyderabad-based cricketer is held in awe and admiration by her teammates and rivals alike. She has wielded the bat for mighty accomplishments. Her confident gait — from the dressing room to the pitch — is in itself a harbinger of events to unfold while facing bowlers of all varieties. It was thus no surprise that, as captain of the Indian team, she spearheaded a Test match campaign after eight years with an unconquered and match-winning half century against England at Sir Paul Getty’s Ground.

In fact, it was deja vu for Mithali whose captain’s knocks of 65 and 22 not out had paved the way for a historic first victory against England at Taunton, Somerset in 2006. She took her tally to 626 runs from nine Test matches and a remarkable 50 plus average in Tests and ODIs. Her Twenty20 numbers are also healthy.

For long women’s Test cricket has been the privilege of Australia and England. They also have their Ashes pride at stake. Others had given up long before because of many reasons, notably paucity of resources and time for four-day competitions. New Zealand Cricket took a policy decisión 10 years ago not to play Tests and gradually a belief gained currency in the ICC that one-day cricket and Twenty20 were the best ways to advertise women’s cricket. Fast scorers and entertainers like England’s Sarah Taylor, West Indies’ Stefanie Taylor, New Zealand’s Suzannah Bates and India’s Harmanpreet Kaur have done their bit in recent times to promote cricket the ODI or Twenty20-way.

Mithali is also racing towards 5000 ODI runs, with only England’s Charlotte Edwards (5597) crossing the mark. Opener M. D. Thirushkamini and middle-order player Harmanpreet Kaur are keeping the interest alive and the fortunes of Indian women’s cricket in the future will hinge on their ability to score big runs.

After outplaying England in the one-off Test, Mithali expressed her joy of having been able to play a Test match before hanging up her boots. With limited opportunities she may not get a chance to bring down Sandhya Agarwal’s excellent record.

Says former India all-rounder and captain Shubhangi Kulkarni: “In the last few years only England and Australia have played Test matches. The focus has been on ODI’s and T20’s. The administrators have identified those formats to take the women’s game to the next level in terms of sponsorship and spectator interest. New Zealand as a policy have not played Test cricket since 2004. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies have also not played since 2004.”

Some of the prominent Indian women cricketers are Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji, Shubhangi Kulkarni, Sandhya Agarwal, Hemlata Kala, Anjum Chopra, Gargi Banerjee and Jhulan Goswami to name a few, but perhaps Mithali surpasses them all on the count of consistency in Test match cricket, one-day internationals and Twenty20.

India’s renowned players: Diana Edulji (20 Tests/63 wkts), Shubhangi Kulkarni (19 Tests/700 runs/60 wkts), Gargi Banerjee (12 Tests/614 runs, 26 ODIs/409 runs), Sudha Shah (21 Tests/601 runs), Neetu David (10 Tests/41 wkts, 97 ODIs/141 wkts), Jhulan Goswami (9 Tests/38 wkts, 133 ODIs/157 wkts, 42 T20/37 wkts), Shashi Gupta (13 Tests/452runs/25 wkts), Shanta Rangaswamy (16 Tests/750 runs/21wkts), Sandhya Agrawal (13 Tests/1110 runs, 21 ODIs/567 runs), Mithali Raj (9 Tests /626 runs,148 ODIs/4791 runs, 46T20/1227 runs), Hemlata Kala (7 Tests/503 runs), Anju Jain (8 Tests/441 runs, 65 ODIs/1729 runs), Sangita Dabir (4 Tests/264 runs), Chandrakanta Kaul-nee Aheer (5 Tests/318 runs), Karuna Jain (42 ODIs/985 runs), Jaya Sharma (77 ODIs/2091 runs), Harmanpreet Kaur (39 ODIs/1071 runs, 49 T20/739 runs), Anjum Chopra (12 Tests/548runs, 127 ODIs/2856 runs), Amita Sharma (116 ODIs/87 wkts, 41T20/ 383 runs), Gohur Sultana (50 ODIs/66 wkts, 37T20/29 wkts), Rumeli Dhar (78 ODIs/63 wkts), Deepa Marathe (59 ODIs/60 wkts), Nooshin Al Khadeer (78 ODIs/100 wkts), Poonam Raut (35 T20/719 runs), Sulakshana Naik (31 T20/384 runs), Priynka Roy (15 T20/21 wkts).

*ODI figures before the start of the recent three-match series against England.