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Rani of cricket

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Maiden over Mitali Raj: ‘Cricket or civils, the end result would have been the same — service to the nation’
Maiden over Mitali Raj: ‘Cricket or civils, the end result would have been the same — service to the nation’

If it weren’t for cricket, Mitali Raj would have 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 will wake up early. As an Air Force officer, my father never liked the fact that I would be still in the bed while everyone was up. So I started waking up early and then one thing led to the other,” says the cricketer.

In a room full of mementoes, memorabalia and memories the cricketer reveals the mind, body and family behind the cricketing glory.

“The lowest moment in my life was perhaps the England tour where I got out for a duck on debut. 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 made up my mind that I would take the next series as my debut. The World Cup was a turning point my career and I managed to cement my place in the side.”

Making it big

The cricketer reveals the many trials a young person faces while making a career in sports. “On 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 don’t want to do anything with cricket,” laughs Mitali rewinding to late ’90s when women’s cricket was a bit of a joke.

Most people assume if Mitali hadn’t made it big in cricket she would have been a dancer, but Mitali has a different take.

“I might have done my civils. But cricket or civils, the end result would have been the same — service to the nation. I would have done it differently. But perhaps I wouldn’t be as independent as I am today,” says Mitali, her eyes darting with thoughts like a danseuse’s eyes.

Mitali performed under Suhasini Shankar (Ananda Shankar Jayant’s mother) in the presence of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy.

When her cricketing skills were spotlighted by Sampath Kumar in 1997, she had to make a choice.

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.

If the Asian Cup glory means that each team member is richer by Rs. 5 lakhs, Mitali credits the BCCI taking charge of the women’s cricket association.

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

About the future Mithali says: “Five or ten years from now? I am certain I would be married and for women things change after marriage. The way you look at things changes. If you don’t change it would be a difficult life. Changes are bound to happen everywhere.”

“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 who feels life hasn’t changed much for her due to cricketing success.

* * *

Field Notes

If not cricket…

If it wasn’t cricket I would have done the Civil Services, though Bharatanatyam was a hobby while studying in Keyes High School, it would have remained just that.

Style…

People compare my batting style to people I have only heard about as they have played before me. Some people say my batting style is like Gundappa Vishwanath’s, though I am not sure how closely my style resembles his.

Future…

Beyond leading a team and batting I would like to give back to people

SERISH NANISETTI

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