A name that every Indian should know along with cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and their likes, is Mithali Raj. This is the name that aligned India with the top countries with a Women Cricket Team. The Captain of Team India, the fourth in ICC's International Women Team ranking, is one of the greatest women players of the world. She has been the icon for every women cricket player of the country, some of whom are playing side by side with her. Mithali Raj Topped the Women ICC ODI batting ranking in 2012. Currently, she is third on the list, following Meg Lanning and Suzie Bates of Australia.
Mithali Raj is one of the early generation of women cricketers that took the giant leap of becoming one of the most capable batswomen of the era. The rare feats she achieved includes her knock of 214 in the final Test against England at the age of 19. She is now the women cricketer with the second highest test score. She has achieved many records in women cricket that are the milestones of India as well as International women cricket.
As a captain, she led the Indian team to the first World Cup final in 2002 in South Africa. In August 2006, India women had the first series Test victory in England. In the same year, the team won the Asia Cup for the second time. In 2008, she again led the team for the Asia Cup, notching the title for the fourth consecutive time. In the last Women T20 2014, she advanced the team to Semi-Finals.
Cricket was introduced to Mithali Raj when she was eight year old. It was never a planning. It was when the disciplined ex-Air Force father could not let his daughter fell victim of an ill-natured habit like sleeping late in the morning. To do away with it, Dorai Raj used to take her to St. John Academy of Cricket early in the morning, only to accompany her brother. All she did there was her school homework sitting by the boundary line. After finishing them, she would sometime just grab a bat and hit the ball casually. But the way she hit the shots with the swift drive movement were eye catching. It was this natural talent as an eight years old that caught the eye of the former first class player Jyoti Prasad, the coach at the Academy. He was impressed and realized the potential in her.
Jyoti Prasad recommended Dorai Raj that Mithali should be trained under Sampath Kumar. He was the head coach of Hyderabad's two age-group teams. As he saw her bat, he straightly asked her father that, "I want the complete trust of you and your wife. I want blind support. I will make Mithali play for the country by the time she's 14." Dorai Raj was naturally not convinced as it seemed unrealistic to him. However, he consented to the proposal. Thus, tough coaching sessions began for her even when she was not even ten. For Mithali, it was difficult, as she had to give up her Bharatnatyam classes. However, she understood the priorities as she realized that her parents, in fact, invested a lot more time in making her "a cricketer than a dancer." She had to choose cricket.
In 1995, she became one of the Andhra state team to play for the senior nationals. She was 13 years old. She had striking scores in Under 16 and Under 19 matches. It was in 1997 when she was picked for the World Cup probables club and the journey thereafter caught speed. Later on, she was playing along with senior players like Diana Edulji, GS Lakshmi and Rajani Venugopal. The roadmap to the international team being clear, for Mithali, her career as a top woman cricketer was flying high.
Now, Mithali Raj is an icon for women cricketers in cricket, both in domestic as well as in the international circuit. The 33 years old cricketer is finally settling down with her career that gave the necessary impetus to Women Cricket in India. She indicated that she might be in the team for the next couple of years and pass the baton to the next generation. For her parents, she has become an identity and they are being rightly rewarded for all their sacrifices.
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