Players like her come once in many generations and their instinctive ability to grasp, adjust and deliver is what makes them outstanding cricketers. Cool and restrained on the field, Mithali Raj is a marvel to watch.
A perfect symphony of skill, class and consistency, Mithali has been around for the last 18 years and is still going strong. Indian women’s cricket team captain, under whom India have reached the ICC ODI World Cup final twice (2005, 2017), says that “everything around Indian women’s cricket has changed over the years, only that she is still playing cricket.”
“Everything has changed, only that I am still playing cricket. In 1999, I did not have a penny to spend. I still remember that my dad had to buy my kit and arrange for my travel. I didn’t have kit sponsorship for long. But today, I don’t have to run for sponsorship now. Under BCCI, we are under central contract and that takes care of most of our things,” said Mithali, the only female cricketer to surpass the 6,000-run mark in ODIs.
Talking about the facilities available to women players compared to their male counterparts, Mithali said, “Facilities have always been there since the time Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) took over women’s cricket in their fold. Yes, money has definitely come into play after the World Cup.”
Life has become quite busy now
Speaking about how life has changed for her and the women players after their stupendous performance in the 2017 World Cup in England, Mithali said, “Life has become quite busy as everywhere we go, people recognise us. Everyone is curious to know about the journey of a woman cricketer. They are keen to know how difficult it was to take up the game as a woman, as people are usually into watching the men’s cricket in our country. Seeing women’s cricket do so well was refreshing and it has generated a lot of curiosity about women’s cricket.”
Never expected so much adulation
Talking about the adulation they got during and after the World Cup, Mithali Raj said, “During the World Cup, I did not know much about how our performance was being perceived back in India. We did not know about the atmosphere back in our country, as we were confined only to the social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). So whatever information we had, we had through social media. My parents didn’t inform me about the frenzy around the women team’s performance in England.”
“Yes, we never expected the kind of adulation we got when we came back to India. It was a surprise,” said Mithali.
“I never thought that people would appreciate our performance to this level. I thought it will be the same usual stuff that we had experienced in 2005. We had been in a similar situation then when we were the runners-up. But at that time things were a bit different. We weren’t under the BCCI then and the matches were not televised. So I think these two factors have definitely added to our popularity. Now people recognise us even at the shopping malls and they have only good things to tell,” added Mithali, the first player to score 7 consecutive 50s in ODIs.
Keep myself fit enough not to become a liability for the team
Talking about the fitness of players, which has become an integral part as far as their selection in the team is concerned, Mithali said, “There are a few factors why fitness has become so important for the cricket team now. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, cricket was a career only until the age of 30. Now it has gone up to 35-38. And cricket being so competitive these days, you can play only when you are fit. More so, T20 has changed the way cricket is being played. Everybody wants to have a long career. Players are more professionals now. Today, you get paid more and you get that only when you represent your country or a top-level club. So you need to keep yourself fit to be in contention.”
Speaking about her personal fitness schedule, the Indian captain said, “As a young cricketer, you are fit as your metabolism is like that. But as you put on age, you can’t have that fitness. You can’t see yourself competing with the young lot. So now I work more on my strength. I keep myself fit enough not to become a liability for the team.”