Known as the “Sachin Tendulkar of Indian women’s cricket” for the longevity of her career, Mithali Raj became only the second woman player in the world and the first from India to get to 10,000 international runs during Friday’s third ODI against South Africa women.
The 38-year-old Raj, who is in her 22nd year of international cricket, made her debut for India in June 1999 when the Indian men’s team was still led by Mohammed Azharuddin and had just a few days before her debut exited the 1999 World Cup in the Super Six stage.
“As far as skill levels go, you can develop as you go along. But such a long career requires discipline and dedication which is visible from the fact that she is playing, scoring and putting in the hard yards even when there is no cricket,” Anjum Chopra, a former India teammate of Raj who witnessed her debut, told IANS.
“Unlike men’s cricket, women’s cricket is not that frequent. So there are phases where there is no cricket. The fact that she has been able to keep herself going for so long despite that is what stands out. Her cover drives, backfoot punches are all the same but she has added more skills like using the long handle. To keep following a routine day in and day out requires dedication and discipline, especially if you are a woman pursuing sport in India. That is commendable,” added Chopra, who represented India in 127 ODIs, 12 Tests and 18 T20 Internationals.
Raj had made a century in that ODI debut in Milton Keynes vs Ireland, scoring 114 while opening partner and fellow debutant Reshma Gandhi made 104 as India won by 161 runs.
The two set a few records in the course of that partnership.
“Mithali and I were drafted into the playing XI after the regular players failed in the previous matches. So they thought why not try the newcomers. We did well in the opportunity given to us,” recalled Gandhi to IANS. Her unbeaten opening partnership of 258 with Raj was a world record then.
“With age, your reflexes slow down. But the great thing with Mithali is that she is technically sound and still has tremendous amounts of patience,” added Gandhi who is from Ahmednagar but is now settled in Delhi.
Raj has so far scored 6,974 runs in ODI cricket at an average of 50.53 with 2,364 runs in T20Is at 37.52 and 663 runs in Test cricket at 51.00.
She has also scored a whopping 75 half centuries and eight centuries.
“To be frank. I couldn’t have imagined (someone would make 10,000 international runs in women’s cricket). In our days, we hardly played that much cricket,” said former India women’s team captain Diana Edulji, who brought Raj into Indian Railways in Secunderabad. Edulji got her a job in Railways with relaxation, even though Raj hadn’t yet turned 18.
“I knew her calibre, when she was a youngster. Knew she had potential to go big. She played a number of years under me, and I am happy, that one of the Indians is on top along with Charlotte Edwards (the only other to have 10,000 international runs),” added Edulji, whose international career lasted from 1976 till 1993.
Edulji says Raj’s biggest quality is her temperament and patience.
“Temperament, patience and determination to stay at the wicket and score runs. She had a big appetite for runs,” added Edulji while speaking to IANS. “Off the field, she used to love sleeping. That was her best pastime.”
Raj has played plenty of great innings throughout her career. Her greatest Test knock was back in 2002 when she made 214 at Taunton against England. That is her only Test hundred apart from four fifties.
But it is in the ODIs that she has an enviable record – scoring seven centuries and 54 half-centuries in 212 matches.
In T20Is also, she has scored 17 half-centuries in 89 matches.
Sachin Tendulkar too tweeted on the milestone.
“Heartiest congratulations Mithali on completing 10,000 runs in International Cricket. Terrific achievement… (Emoticon: clapping hands). Keep going strong,” tweeted Tendulkar.
Tendulkar’s former teammate V.V.S. Laxman also tweeted admiration for Raj.
“Congratulations @M_Raj03 on becoming the first Indian Woman Cricketer to score 10K runs! You are not only a great ambassador and a legend of the game but you have inspired a generation of cricketers to take up our sport. Proud of you. Thumbs up. #INDWvSAW @BCCI,” tweeted Laxman.
Raj is India’s all-time highest run scorer in ODIs and T20Is and the fourth highest in Tests behind Sandhya Agarwal (1,110 runs), Shanta Rangaswamy (750) and Shubhangi Kulkarni (700).
Former England captain Edwards was the only woman to have scored more than 10,000 runs in international cricket before Raj.
Edwards, 41, retired from international cricket in May 2016 and later retired from all forms of the game in September 2017. She scored 5,992 runs in 191 ODIs, 2,605 runs in 95 T20Is and 1,676 runs in 23 Tests.