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Mithali Raj scales a new high in Women's Cricket

Mithali Raj is known to get immersed in a book before going out to bat. (Photo: ICC)
by Abhijit Sengupta, SJFI

HYDERABAD, July 17, 2017: What is common between classical dance and cricket? At first thought, it will seem that there is nothing in common between the two. Take a moment to reconsider the question. Both these disciplines, one from the broader field of art and culture, and another form the realms of sport do have a few things in common: dedication, discipline and the ability to achieve and maintain a high level of fitness notably agility and stamina.

Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj is an epitome of the above virtues.

Her early practice in dance probably helped her to increase and develop the mental and physical qualities that have now made her one of the world’s leading players.

The 34-year-old recently added one more feather to her already crowded cap by becoming the world’s highest scorer in One Day Internationals. She is the first to cross the milestone of 6,000 runs in ODIs and she has still got a few years of cricket left in her.

So she is likely to add a few hundred more runs to this tally and who knows, perhaps she may even cross 7000.

It would be interesting to travel back in time for about three decades to take a look at how this outstanding player made her beginning. How and why did she take up the game? Who or what motivated her? Who encouraged and guided her? These are the questions that would be most likely to come up in any cricket lover's mind.

Mithali Raj in action against Australia during the Women’s World Cup league phase where she crossed 6,000 runs. (Photo: ICC)

Mithali was born on December 3, 1982 in Jodhpur. Her father, Dorai Raj, was an officer in the Indian Air Force was stationed there at the time.

Mithali started to play the game at the age of 10. At around the same time she was also following her second passion which was -- as can be guessed -- classical dance.

However, after about eight years she realized that she would have to focus only on one discipline and she chose cricket.

By this time she moved to Hyderabad where she had plenty of opportunity to get worthwhile and valuable guidance from experienced coaches at the St. John’s Academy as well as at the Keyes High school in Secunderabad (which is considered a twin city of Hyderabad).

What gave her an added edge was she often played against more experienced and older male players. As a result, the bowling she had to face at this crucial stage of her budding career was hostile and penetrative than the level that most of the other girls had to tackle.

Perhaps this helped to lay the foundation of her technique and the confidence that she now has. And also the wide range of strokes that she possesses in her armory.

After doing exceptionally well in national and domestic tournaments she was named among the Indian team's probables for the 1997 Women's Cricket World Cup when she was just 14, but couldn't make it to the final squad.

Eventually she made her One Day International debut in 1999 against Ireland at Milton Keynes and scored an unbeaten 114 runs thus getting her international career off to a flying start.

She made her Test debut in the 2001-02 season against South Africa at Lucknow, the capital of one of India’s most populous States, Uttar Pradesh. On 17 August 2002, at the age of 19, in her third Test, she broke Karen Rolton's record of world’s highest individual Test score of 209 by piling up a record 214 against England in the second and final Test.

However, this record has since been surpassed by Kiran Baluch of Pakistan who scored 242 against the West Indies in 2004.

An impressive string of successes followed. In the 2002 World Cup, she fell ill with typhoid and her absence seriously hampered India's performances.

However, on the next occasion she led India to its first World Cup final before losing to an overwhelmingly strong Australian squad.

In 2006, she led the side to its first ever Test and series victory in England and wrapped up the year winning the Asia Cup - the second time in 12 months.

Her calm composure when at the crease (she was recently seen nonchalantly reading a book before going in to bat) and her ability to score briskly make her a batswoman who is feared by rival bowlers.

In addition to her ability with the bat, Mithali can roll her arm over and bowl leg-breaks thereby providing variety to the attack. Her run scoring abilities have made headlines regularly in the Indian media. She was honored with the prestigious Arjuna Award for cricket in 2003 and the fourth highest civilian award Padma Shri in 2015 by the Government of India.

In July 2017, she became the first player to score 6,000 runs in Women's ODIs and as matters now stand, she is right on top of the world.

Mithali Raj in action against New Zealand during the ongoing Women's World Cup in England. Her century knock enabled India beat New Zealand and reach the semifinals. (Photo: ICC)

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