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Grit and glory

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TOSS UP CHOICE If it wasn’t for cricket, Mitali would have settled for a career in the civil services
TOSS UP CHOICE If it wasn’t for cricket, Mitali would have settled for a career in the civil services

If it weren’t for cricket, Mitali Raj would have had more time to sleep

It was a paternal ruse to break young Mitali Raj’s obsession with sleep that led her to the path of success and glory.

“No one ever thought of cricket as a career in my family. My dad wanted me to accompany my brother to the cricket ground so that I would wake up early. As an Air Force officer, my father never liked the fact that I was still in the bed while everyone else was up. So I started waking up early and then one thing led to the other,” says the cricketer who can easily opt for a career as a model with her chiselled features and ready smile.

In a room full of mementoes, memorabalia and memories (the earliest photograph shows her as a wicketkeeper as her brother Mithun takes guard in their old Regimental Bazar home), the cricketer lets her guard down and shuffles back and forth to reveal the the family behind the cricketing glory.

Down, but not out

“The lowest moment in my life was perhaps the England tour where I got out for a duck on debut against England. It was a miserable experience and I thought this was perhaps the last time I would be playing for my country. I erased these negative thoughts and I made up my mind that I would take the next series as my debut psychologically. Sure, the World Cup that followed was a turning point in my career and I managed to cement my place in the side,” says Mitali.

At her violet duplex house in Trimulgherry, the cricketer’s talk reveals the many trials and tribulations a young person faces in making a career out of sports. “At my first camp in Calcutta, I was the youngest at 14 while some of the legendary players were twice my age. I carried my SSC books with me but I felt lonely and I called my mother and bawled on the phone that I didn’t want to do anything with cricket,” laughs Mitali rewinding to the late 1990s when women’s cricket hardly had any money.

Most assume if Mitali hadn’t made it big in cricket she would have been a Bharatanatyam dancer, but Mitali has a different take. “I might have done my civils. But the end result would have been the same, cricket or civil services, the end result is service to the nation. I would have done it differently. But perhaps I wouldn’t be as independent as I am today,” says Mitali.

In fact, Mitali having performed under Suhasini Shankar (danseuse Ananda Shankar Jayant’s mother) had a toss up choice as it were when her cricketing skills were spotlighted early on by coach Sampath Kumar in 1997. It was at Sampath’s behest that Mitali learnt table tennis to sharpen her sight and reflexes, and every summer meant learning a new thing like playing the piano, skating etc.

Mitali always sees the latest triumphs with the wisdom of hindsight. If the Asian Cup glory means that each team member is richer by Rs. 5 lakh, Mitali credits the beneficent deed as a result of the BCCI taking charge of the women’s cricket association.

Providing fillip

“We finished runner-up in the world cup. That was an even greater moment, but it went unrecognised. This kind of recognition is a welcome change. In fact, a 20-20 league on the lines of IPL for women would give the right fillip to women’s cricket,” she says.

Someone who starts young as a sportsperson stays young forever, at least for the media. But it is a grasp of Mitali’s maturity that she says, “Five or ten years from now? I am certain I would be married and for women things change a lot after marriage. The way you look at things change.”

“Cricket is not just a game. It is a way of life. Today, I realise that I am more independent and decisive than a lot of people I know. I can travel alone, I can chaperone my mom. Cricket has taught me a lot of things,” says Mitali.

SERISH NANISETTI

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