Experts Column

Mithali Raj, name synonymous to India’s women cricket has become the only cricketer to have the longest cricketing career in International Cricket. She wears the prestigious crown of representing the country at highest level. Raj has been a champion of women's cricket and has made significant contributions to the team's success over the years.

Raj will be the first female cricketer, and the second overall after the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, to have played for 22 years. She made her ODI debut for India at the age of 16 against Ireland in June 1999, and she has since become an indispensable member of the Indian women's team across all formats.

Since her debut in 1999, Raj has played 214 ODIs, 89 T20Is, and 11 Tests. While she is the all-time leading run-scorer in ODIs, she is the highest run-scorer for India in T20Is, with 2364 runs in 89 matches. She was the youngest woman to score a double century in women's Tests at the age of 19.

Long before she lived up to her surname and established herself as a cricketing queen, Mithali Raj aspired to show off her footwork in a different arena: Indian classical dancing.

Regardless of her talent in her chosen profession, it is the transition from Bharatanatyam to cricket that makes her glorious storey so compelling.

Her personal choice was dance but the destiny had some other plans for her. This journey of cricket began at the age of 10 when her father dragged her along to her brother's cricket coaching session at St John's coaching camp in Secunderabad,just to let go her lazyness and her love for sleep. Eventually late riser ended up being more promising than her brother.

Mithali would sit by the fence and complete her homework. When she was done, the restless girl would pick up a bat and hit a dozen balls as far as she could along the ground. Jyothi Prasad, a former first-class cricketer, was impressed by her casual hitting. Mithali's quick movements to drive the ball - a step forward before the bat came down in an arc - persuaded him that she had a chance.

On the advice of Jyothi Prasad, Dorai Raj enrolled his daughter to train under Sampath Kumar, the head coach of Hyderabad's two age-group teams. Sampath seeing mithali bat he promised her parents that he would make her to play for the country by the time she's 14.

Her parents had no plan B for her career except the cricket. They made her to go through rigorous training like a racehorse. Apart from six-hour coaching sessions, her coach made her train even after sunset reasoning that if she can hit the ball in the dim light , she will perform even better under bright sun.

She made several sacrifices, cutting down on attending social events, family gatherings for the sake of her career.At the age of 19, she established herself as one of India's best batswomen, scoring 214 against England in the second and final Test at Taunton.When she scored 114 in her debut match against Ireland in Milton Keynes in 1999, she became the youngest ever ODI centurion.

She led India to the finals of the 2005 Women's Cricket World Cup, where they were defeated by Australia. She is also a part-time leg-break bowler. She was the recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2003. With 703 ratings, she currently leads the batting order. Her poise at the crease, as well as her ability to score quickly, make her a dangerous cricketer.

And now, with 22 years ofcricketing career, the batting legend has proven her tenacity and emerged as an inspiration to the younger generation. She has reached the pinnacle of the game while setting incredible records along the way.

The legendry batsman Sachin Tendulkar appreciates Mithali saying, "Incredible achievement for her. She has been a role-model for everyone. The way she has conducted herself, the way she has stayed committed to the game, giving her best and continuing to work hard, inspiring others, helping them has reflected what she is really all about. So, I am really, really happy that she is an integral part of the team who is going to teach so many youngsters how to approach Test cricket.”

Raj was the top women's ODI cricketer during the 2013 Women's World Cup. In 2017, she became the second player in WODI history to score 5,500 runs and also became the first player in WODI history to score 6,000 runs. She led India to the Women's Cricket World Cup final in 2017. In the same year, she was named to the ICC Women's One-Day International Team of the Year.

She was named in India's squad for the 2018 ICC Women's World Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies in 2018.In 2019, she retired from T20I Cricket to focus on the World Cup for her country.

Raj was nominated for the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Award for ICC Female Cricketer of the Decade as well as the award for women's one-day international cricketer of the decade. She was named captain of India's Test squad for a one-off match against the England women's cricket team in May 2021.

From those sleepy mornings in Secunderabad, Mithali went on to become India's greatest female batswomen with a nearly two-decade international career.