Mithali Raj’s Inspiring Journey From A Budding Bharatanatyam Dancer To A Cricket Icon

Written by Chaitra Krishnan, MA (Journalism & Mass Communication)  • 

India is a country where cricket is not just another sport, for people here, cricket is an emotion, it is like a religion. And when it comes to its players, well, they are loved and respected just the way gods and goddesses are. Even though women’s cricket is not as popular as the men’s edition, for those who follow it, Mithali Raj is not less than a miracle woman. This 36-year-old captain of the Indian women’s cricket team is the first female cricketer to play 200 ODIs. Adding that to her far-reaching list of achievements, Mithali Raj is one of the most idolized and admired sportspersons in the country today.

Interestingly, Mithali Raj was aspiring to mark her moves in a completely different sphere of talent by becoming a Bharatanatyam dancer. Can you imagine how that would have been like? We’re sure she would have been an amazing dancer, but India would have lost their precious skipper in that process. Mithali, who is referred to as the “Lady Tendulkar“ was born in Jaipur, Rajasthan to a Tamil couple Dorai Raj and Leela Raj. Her father was a Warrant Officer in the Indian Air Force. At the tender age of 10, Mithali’s father enrolled her for cricket coaching at the St. John’s coaching camp in Secunderabad. She used to go for her cricket coaching classes along with her elder brother.

Mithali’s Early Career

Image: Instagram @mithaliraj

After eight years of learning Bharatanatyam, Mithali gave it up for cricket — her true love. Sometimes, you’ve to give up things you are good at so that you can work towards something better in life and where your heart lies. Before she marked her territory in the International cricket, Mithali played for the Railways in domestic tournaments. She started playing with the then-popular sportswomen like Purnima Rau, Anjum Chopra, and Anju Jain and soon flew ahead of them in the blink of an eye. In 1997, she was one among the probable names for the Women’s Cricket World Cup. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the final team.

She was picked for the Indian cricket team when she was only 16 and since then for nearly 20 years she has been swinging her wooden sword with unbeatable charisma. Mithali’s first ODI debut was in 1999 against Ireland in Milton Keynes, England. The 16-year old girl scored 114 runs without getting knocked out in her first ever game! This made her the youngest ever ODI centurion. “The first impression is the best impression“ saying are for people like Mithali who made a spot for herself internationally that day. Later in 2001, she made her test cricket debut against South Africa in Lucknow.

Mithali’s father recollects that she had a different plan for herself in life and how keen she was on becoming a dancer, as he spoke to a leading news website. However, once she proved her talent in cricket, her disciplinarian father pushed her to focus and work harder towards cricket. It wasn’t all easy for her to do this. She had to cut back on her social interactions and all the other activities as a young teenager to focus on achieving her ultimate goals. Mithali’s life is truly a testament to the fact that nothing can replace hard work.

The Unstoppable Lady In Blue

Image: Instagram @mithaliraj

In 2002, 19-year old Mithali Raj surpassed the world record of Karen Rolton’s 209 runs with her 214 runs, creating her own space in the list of the big names. This was just a beginning for the run machine who never dried up. Mithali missed the Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2000 due to typhoid, but she led her team in the 2005 World Cup until the finals. Mithali is best known for her leadership and irreplaceable performance during the 2005 World Cup that was held in South Africa. In the semi-finals, she scored 91 runs off 104 balls which proved to be very crucial in beating New Zealand. Even though the team lost to Australia in the final match, the squad led by Mithali basked in the golden spotlight for all its efforts and has continued to do so since then.

She has also led the Indian women’s cricket team to their first ever bilateral series in Austalia and won the series on a foreign cricket ground. Mithali is not just a good batswoman, but she is also an impeccable right-arm leg break bowler as well. In the 2013 Women’s World Cup, Mithali was the No.1 Cricketer in the ODI chart. In 2017, she once again led the team for the World Cup, but the team lost in the finals against England by just nine runs.

Rewards And Recognitions

Image: Instagram @mithaliraj_fc

In 2003, Mithali Raj was honored with the Arjuna Award for her outstanding achievement in sports. In 2015, she received the Padma Shri award, which is the fourth highest civilian award in India.

Just like how we see the young boys in our country wanting to grow up to become the next Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid, we hope that Mithali’s story too inspires the young girls of our country to take up cricket or any other sports as their choice of career.

Do you think Mithali Raj’s journey is inspiring? Have you ever taken an interest in cricket? Let us know in the comments section below.

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