Ever remember the familiar English language exercise during an examination, called “Match the columns?” Had the same exercise been focused on one of Indian cricket’s greatest legends, particularly in the alley of the women’s game, it would have required the students to undertake an interesting albeit fulfilling their assignment.
One would’ve have simply been asked to match the adjectives against India Women’s ODI captain and the options would’ve been the following: Virtuous, humble, studious, focused, legendary, icon.
And in here would’ve laid the enigma of the simple exercise. Against a single name, one would’ve had to match the answers (read, adjectives) in the other column. The name would’ve been that of current ODI captain and the scorer of most runs in 50-overs Women’s game- Mithali Raj.
Ask her to walk on water and this mild-mannered batswoman would do that for her team as well. Ask her to go up to a summit and walk down in the immediate next instant, she would do that; and that too, sportingly, without any complaints. For her fans, standing in applause to admire her statistical achievements and sheer humility is another day in their lives. For Mithali Raj- however- it’s another good day at the office.
When was the last time on this planet that anyone criticised the ODI captain of Indian Women’s team? Perhaps, it may have been a leap year date in the outer space. For in Mithali Raj’s world, one that self-actualises scoring of runs for the team’s cause, the only thing that matters is to fetch excitement for the fans whilst raising the level of the contest.
So when in her customary, unhurried – head buried in the contest without worrying about the personal score- methodology, Mithali Raj compiled another useful score from the top order against Sri Lanka (Asia Cup 2018), she crossed 2000 T20 runs. In so doing, she would become the first Indian batswoman in the history of the country to do so. Lest it is forgotten, that she also happens to be the highest-ever run scorer in the 50-over contest.
Among the few players in the game who don’t sacrifice the significance of holding on to a wicket, her mind arrested in a contest with the solitary aim to contribute- Mithali’s inspired a generation of cricketers, among whom are youngsters of her team. Yet, there’s so much about her batting, at 35, that it feels that somehow the best is yet to come. You judge a player either by her quality of leadership. In other cases, you judge a cricketer on the ability to score runs in pressure situations.
Mithali Raj, however, oscillates between two varying roles successfully, with a hermit’s focus bringing in an equanimity that’s rare to find in modern cricket. Few others like her can be clubbed into a rare league, more like pantheon-formation of sorts. Among them, without a doubt is Meg Lanning from Australia, Suzie Bates from New Zealand and, Stafanie Taylor of the West Indies.
Why we admire Mithali Raj isn’t purely for her grizzly statistical accumulation. Over 2000 T20 runs. Over 6300 ODI runs. There are 6 hundreds and 50 fifties and many counting and many more to be made. We stay in immense appreciation of this cricketer also for her sportswoman-like conduct that’s forever eschewed of shenanigans. Rare are those cricketers who remain so away from controversies. Even rarer are those who are admired by teammates whilst also being respected by contemporaries from the opposition camp. You, perhaps, already know where to place the Jodhpur-born by now.
What was most important about the soft-speaking right-hander was that her important score against Sri Lanka, during which she scaled another landmark, ended up in a winning cause for India. At the end of the day, your personal landmark against your team’s win is always cherished, isn’t it?
Those gentle nudges down the leg side, the smooth pushovers through the covers and the silken drives on either side of the wicket- so much about Mithali’s game is about a rare batswoman holding a midhas touch. May that continues for times to come. One expects some more enormously-important landmarks to be cracked in the upcoming World T20 ahead in 2018. Maybe, the global enormity of the contest will inspire this consistent, ever-driven batswoman to shape the game further through her immense humility and focus. And that will, in turn, be Cricket’s win, not alone Mithali’s teams’.