On June 26, 1999, Indian cricket was blessed with the arrival of a very special player into the international scene – India's wonder woman, Mithali Raj. She took the world by storm with a stunning century on her debut against Ireland, at the Milton Keynes ground. She made her way into the record books as one among only five women in the history of women's ODIs, till date, to have scored a century on debut. She was only 17 when she played one of the finest innings in the history of Indian women's cricket. 18 years down the line, she is the leading run-scorer for the Indian women's team in ODIs and T20 internationals. She continues to exhibit the same passion, and hunger for runs that were visible in that aspiring 17-year old.
Mithali Raj is carving out a formidable legacy as a batsman and leader in women's cricket. On Wednesday, Mithali Raj joined an elite club of Indian batters – Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar – who have scaled the run-scoring summit, when she went past English batswoman Charlotte Edwards' record for most runs in women's ODI cricket. During the course of her 69 against Australia in the Women's World Cup, Mithali also became the first woman to break the 6,000-run barrier in women's ODIs. It's a journey that started almost two decades ago when a teenage girl packed her cricketing equipment to smash a century on her ODI debut.
After scaling this height, Mithali started writing one glorious chapter after another on the cricket field, the most glittering of which came at Bristol on Wednesday. Much like a Gavaskar or a Tendulkar in the men's game, Mithali has been the backbone of the Indian women's batting line-up for close to two decades now. The responsibility has seen her rake up 6,028 runs from 183 matches at an average of 51.52. During the first game of this World Cup, she completed a record of seven half-centuries in a row, a feat unparalleled in women's cricket. while only Javed Miandad (9) holds the record in the men's game. But all these runs have not come without sacrifices.
Unlike India's male cricketers, most of whom got married during the course of their cricketing career, Mithali remains single. At 34, Mithali knows the World Cup in England could well be her last big ICC tournament. Having lost the chance to hold on to the silverware in 2005, where a Mithali-led India lost to Australia in the final, she doesn't want to let this opportunity go. "I would be lying to you if I say that I am not dreaming about a World Cup win. We have the team to do it as this team doesn't revolve around the performance of one or two players. But our first target would be to reach the semifinals and only then take it from there," she says on her World Cup goal.
Trained to be a Bharatnatyam dancer in her younger days, she has sure come a long way. And, if India does win this World Cup, it would be a perfect gift to this legend of Indian cricket.