If it was providence that saw Mithali Raj padding up for challenges of the unknown kind when she was a mere ten-year old, today it seems like Bharat Natyam’s loss has been cricketing world’s gain. The saga of the 34-year-old Hyderabadi has been rather unusual.
Strange as it may sound, if one takes a closer look at her trail-blazing international career of the past 15 years, one can bracket it alongside the flamboyance of Brain Lara. Of course, one is not making comparisons or putting the two on the same pedestal vis-à-vis grace, poise and talent.
The charismatic southpaw is way above Mithali on that count. However, what is common between the two is also a tragic reflection of the pitiable situations prevalent in West Indies cricket when Lara was around and Indian women with Mithali at her awesome best.
Like Mithali, Lara was the lone hope for the team. Neither had batters of competence, at least consistent ones, at the other end. Like the Caribbean gladiator in his heyday, even Mithali has almost single-handedly borne the batting brunt of the country. It is only of late that a couple of batswomen worth their name have emerged.
On the bowling front too, it has been only Jhulan Goswami, who has successfully spearheaded the attack. It is not surprising that only these two symbolise longevity in international cricket.
If one were to make a deeper analysis of the careers of Lara and Mithali, what comes across as a startling statistic is that most of their on-field brilliance has gone for losing causes!
For instance, for all the euphoria after Mithali became the first woman cricketer to scale ‘Mount 6000’ in ODIs, the fact of the matter is that India was dealt a crushing blow by Australia despite individual heroics of Mithali and opener Punam Raut, who struck a masterly 106.
The biggest reward for Mithali has been that the zenith of her extraordinary career has come against a formidable opponent and right in the backyard of Britons.
One of the reasons why India has not been able to produce cohesive and winnable women teams even at irregular intervals is because of the step-motherly treatment meted out to women cricketers, who, taken on the larger spectrum, are as much ambassadors of the nation as are the men.
Alas, the gentlemen running Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) do not appear to think so. Women players were not even treated as professionals till recently. This comes in stark contrast to the way they are recognised in Australia, England and South Africa.
Once the ongoing World Cup concludes, Indians of every hue will demand rewards and national honours for Mithali and forget her very existence once the men embark on the tour of Sri Lanka. It is time the BCCI did something tangible by way of patronisation.
After all, in terms of brand image and individual popularity, Mithali Raj will in no way be less than what Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Dronavalli Harika and Aditi Ashok command.