The very best of Mithali Raj: Knocks that define her immortal legacy
When India’s batting legend Mithali Raj hung her boots on Wednesday, June 8, social media platforms saw a deluge of warm and affectionate messages for the legend.
Raj’s international career spanned over 23 long years and witnessed her take India from an average side to a force to be reckoned with. One can’t have such a long and celebrated career without putting up numerous blazing performances, whose sheen refuses to dim inspite the wear and tear of time.
As the India stalwart prepares for her second innings, we take a look at some of her exuberant knocks across formats over the years that will remain etched in the memory of every cricket fan that has seen her bat.
2nd Test, Taunton, 14-17 August 2002, India tour of England
India were under the pump after facing three humiliating defeats against New Zealand and hosts England in the tri-series prior to the two-match Test series.
After the first Test at the Denis Compton Oval in Shenley got washed out due to rain, India were up against a formidable England side in the second Test match.
Indian skipper Anjum Chopra won the toss and elected to field in order to give her bowlers the best chance to have a crack at the English batters on a wicket that had some moisture in it.
The pace bowling pair of Jhulan Goswami and Sunita Singh dismissed the top-three England batters to give India the ideal start. It was looking as if India will roll the hosts over pretty quickly but that didn’t happen as the trio of skipper Clare Connor, Laura Newton and wicket-keeper Mandie Godliman dug in and helped England reach the 300-run mark.
When India started their innings, they lost their first two wickets (both the openers), with just 100 runs on the board and were still trailing by 284 runs. In walked Mithali Raj and scored a monumental double hundred to give India a comprehensive 138-run lead. She faced 407 deliveries, scored 19 fours and wore down the English bowlers one by one.
Her knock, in the end, helped India to secure a draw which was looking highly unlikely given their form heading into the Test.
Her marathon innings helped her set up numerous records that still stand. She became the youngest player (19 years and 254 days) to score a double hundred. Her 214 is still the most runs scored by a batter at number four. She retires as only one of only seven players to have scored a double hundred in Test cricket.
2nd Test, Taunton, August 29 – September 01, 2006
After the first Test at Leicester ended in a draw, India faced a crushing 4-0 defeat in the five-match ODI series afterwards. Therefore, the Indian team was again feeling the heat heading into the second Test at Taunton.
Having taken up the reins of leadership from Chopra, the onus of India’s batting order was on the young shoulders of Raj and she didn’t disappoint. She opted to bat first against a potent English attack comprising Laura Marsh, Isa Guha and Jenny Gunn and led from the front.
She scored a defiant 65-run knock and stitched a 136-run partnership with Chopra. Their partnership propelled India to a competitive 307 and it made the difference.
Raj also stood out as captain and rotated her bowlers really well, which saw India restrict the Charlotte Edwards side to a mere 98 and asked them to follow-on.
Edwards scored a wonderful century in the second innings and set India a target of 98 runs to win the game. The chase was tricky as India lost wickets at regular intervals but a composed 22* from India’s skipper helped the side to win the series and create history.
Raj’s 87 runs in the game and her brilliant leadership saw India defeat England for the first time in Test cricket and led them to their first-ever Test win on English soil.
6th ODI, Vadodara, December 24, 2004, Australia tour of India
When the seven ODI series was announced initially, many cricket pundits were of the opinion that Australia will hammer the hosts. But on the contrary, the scoreline at the end of the series read 4-3.
One of the major reasons behind that was Mithali Raj, who led the charge. With 288 runs at an impressive average of 72.25, Raj finished as the highest run-getter in the series.
Having lost the series at Surat in the fifth ODI, the Mithali Raj-led side went to Vadodra intending to safeguard their pride.
After winning the toss, Raj put Australia in to bat and limited them to 184/7 in 50 overs.
Having not been able to chase anything over 150 in the series, India were under psychological pressure and it was evident right from the outset as both Indian openers got out cheaply. The onus of the run chase fell on Raj’s shoulders and she didn’t disappoint.
She took time to get her eye in and anchored the run chase beautifully to take India home by five wickets. If it wasn’t for her innings, India would have most likely fallen short yet again. She struck eleven fours during her knock, which never allowed the Australian bowling attack to dictate terms to them.
2nd Semi-Final, Potchefstroom, April 07, 2005, World Cup
After being asked to bat first on a deck that had plenty in it for the seamers at the Sedgars Park in Potchefstroom, India lost both its openers with just 38 runs on the board. Fast bowler Rachel Pullar had her tail up but it was Raj to India’s rescue again.
She weathered the storm remarkably well. Often when the batting team loses a few wickets in clusters, the remaining batters are forced to play at a sedate pace. On the contrary, Raj played fire with fire and struck at a strike rate of 87.50. The other thing that stood out about her innings (91* runs off 104 balls) was that she played out the entire fifty overs and helped India post 204 on the board.
Her valiant effort with the bat gave the Indian bowlers a good enough score to defend and they did the same without fail as India bowled The White Ferns out for just 164 runs, bagging a 40-run victory.
7th Place Play-off, Cuttack, February 07, 2013, ICC World Cup
When India faced arch-rivals Pakistan at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack during the 2013 World Cup, they were already out of the tournament. But still, the challenge was to finish on a high.
Batting first, Pakistan posted 192 runs on the board and India was under a bit of psychological pressure. Prior to this game, no team had chased more than 105 at the venue during the event.
The hosts lost both Thirush Kamini and Punam Raut with just 51 runs on the board and an unceremonious end to what had been a forgettable campaign at home was on the cards.
But it was Raj to India’s rescue yet again. She scored a match-winning ton (103* off 141 balls), including 13 fours and one maximum, and helped India overhaul the target with four overs left. She kept losing partners at regular intervals but – unfazed by what was happening at the other end – she continued on her merry way and provided a sizeable crowd at Barabati with a reason to rejoice.
27th Match, Derby, July 15, 2017, ICC World Cup
When Raj’s India met Suzie Bates’ New Zealand in the 27th match of the ICC World Cup in 2017, it was a virtual quarterfinal for both sides. Bates’ decision to bowl first bore fruit in the first hour of play as seamers Hannah Rowe and Lea Tahuhu were able to dismiss both Indian openers pretty cheaply.
India needed rearguard action and yet again, it came from the willow of Raj. She creamed a few exquisite cover drives and square drives for fun initially to take the pressure off Harmanpreet Kaur at the other end. Her aggressive stroke play right at the start forced Bates to spread the field and have boundary riders in play.
Raj was quick to take advantage of the same as she dealt in singles and twos with ease. She was involved in two-century partnerships – with Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy respectively.
It was her sixth ODI ton that propelled India to a healthy total (265/7) and helped them bag a semi-final ticket eventually.
2nd T20I, East London, February 16, 2018, India tour of South Africa
Mithali Raj has often been subjected to a lot of criticism for her strike rate. From getting trolled online for the same to facing harsh criticism from cricket experts, Raj has seen it all. But there have been many instances where Raj has displayed her ability to launch an onslaught on the opposition and hammer the ball as well as any other batter on the circuit.
When India stepped on the field against South Africa at the Buffalo Park in East London on February 16, 2018 the spectators got to witness the absolute best of Raj’s T20 batting prowess.
Chasing 143 to win, Raj took on the South African attack right at the start of her innings and put them to cleaners with ease. Opening the innings alongside Smriti Mandhana, she hit an unbeaten 76* to steer India to victory and scored at an impressive strike rate of 124.59.
Unlike most openers in T20Is, Raj didn’t throw away her wicket after getting off to a smooth beginning and finished the game herself. Her knock propelled India to a nine-wicket victory with five balls to spare.