Stellar run-getter: on Indian cricketer Mithali Raj's feat

Mithali Raj has been the torch-bearer for women’s cricket in India for 18 years. Ever since her international debut as a 16-year-old in a game against Ireland in 1999, she steadily grew in stature, batting with aplomb, scoring critical runs and shepherding her team. Today she is a colossus, and it is not surprising. Consistency has been her second skin and confidence a steady ally. When she scored 69 runs against Australia in the ICC Women’s World Cup game at Bristol on Wednesday, she became the first woman to scale the 6000-run peak in one-day internationals. It was a milestone that proved inevitable once she went past the previous record-holder for the highest number of runs, England’s Charlotte Edwards with 5992. Ironically, Raj was fated to succeed at the individual level and also suffer the agony of her team’s defeat. It is a trope that has shadowed her for the most part, though in recent times she has led a squad that displays vigour and has snatched some key victories. During a large chunk of her career, she remained the team’s spine, much like how Sachin Tendulkar was in his early years before Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly stepped up. Now 34, she can breathe a touch easy, with the rise of Smriti Mandhana and Punam Raut giving the team punch.

The world records for highest runs and wickets are now both held by women in the current Indian squad – Raj (6028 runs) and Jhulan Goswami (189 wickets), respectively. It is a rare occurrence and it needs to be celebrated more wholesomely. In the men’s game, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev had led the Test batting and bowling charts, respectively, but at different points in time, not together. The achievements of Raj and Goswami, and the exploits of Mandhana and Raut might give the impression that Indian women cricketers have it easy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For years, women cricketers have fought patriarchy, toiled at private academies and yearned for frequent international matches. The Board of Control for Cricket in India only belatedly, and that too under pressure from the ICC, embraced women’s cricket — and its support to the women’s game is still far from adequate. For instance, Raj, a regular in the Indian squad, has had the opportunity to play 183 ODIs — compared to Yuvraj Singh’s 304, even though he made his debut a year after her. A trained Bharatanatyam dancer, Raj has been an eloquent spokesperson for her sport, detailing the challenges and busting prejudices and stereotypes. Recently she swung a heavy bat for gender equity when she rightly snubbed a reporter, who asked about her favourite ‘male’ cricketer. Raj’s riposte was terse , but captured the arc of stereotypes a woman cricketer has to fight: “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?” Maybe we should.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2022 1:06:21 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/stellar-run-getter/article59781177.ece