Opinion

As Mithali Raj retires from cricket, it’s a moment to acknowledge a true great of the game

Career almost as long as that of Sachin Tendulkara body of work that puts her among the finest ever in women’s cricket, one-day international batting average and captaincy numbers that match those of MS Dhoni — Mithali Raj, who bids farewell to her playing days, was the first superstar of Indian women’s cricket. She was the single most transformative figure in women’s cricket in her country. She broke barriers and boundaries and changed perceptions. The force of her personality, the gift of her stroke-making and the dint of her leadership influenced the coming of age narrative of Indian women’s cricket, uplifted them from outsiders to genuine title contenders, and injected them with self-belief. Any summation of her career should comprise three parts. Mithali as a trailblazer of women’s cricket, as a world-conquering batter and as a World Cup captain.

She leaves the stage as the highest run-getter in the 50-over format in the world — 7,805 runs at an average of 50.68 in 211 innings. No one has come in the vicinity of her tally of 50-plus scores — 71 (64 half-centuries and 7 centuries). She straddled formats with ease, accumulating 699 runs in 19 Test innings including a double hundred and 2,364 T20 runs at 37.52 per knock. She mastered conditions, prospering in as contrasting climes as dewy Milton Keynes to sun-baked Karachi. Most of those victories came under her captaincy too — she captained 155 times and won 89 games, an unsurpassed feat in world cricket. She steered India to their maiden — and so far only — World Cup triumph in 2017, though her team lost in the finals of the T20 World Cup in 2020.

In so many respects, her career was Tendulkar-like. Both played for more than two decades, both racked up records that will take gifted players to break. Mithali’s last days in cricket were controversy-laden too, the coach-feud saga raged on, there were rumored rifts in the team. But none of these should come in the way of Mithali being considered as a true great of not just women’s cricket, but cricket.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on June 9, 2022 under the title ‘Mithali, superstar’.

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