On June 8, 2022, Mithali Raj, the most decorated Indian female cricketer of all time, called time on her 23-year-long career at the highest level by announcing her retirement from all formats of international cricket. As a pioneer of the women’s game in India, Raj broke barriers that had never been breached before and set new standards of professionalism.
As Raj bids adieu to the 22 yards, My Kolkata takes a look at her achievements over more than two decades that transformed the trajectory of women’s cricket in India.
Raj began her India journey in style with an unforgettable debut against IrelandTT archives
- Raj announced herself on the international stage with a staggering 114 not out on debut as a 16-year-old playing away from home against Ireland in Milton Keynes. That knock would lay down the marker of what was to come over the next 20 years and more.
- In a Test match in August 2002 against England in Taunton, Raj scored 214, breaking the then record for the highest Test score set by Australian Karen Rolton who had scored an unbeaten 209. Although Raj’s innings has since been bettered by Kiran Baluch of Pakistan, who scored 242 against the West Indies in March 2004, she is still the only Indian woman to score a double ton in the longest format of the game.
- 2005 saw the birth of a captain for decades as Raj took over the reins of the women’s team for her first World Cup, with star seniors like Anjum Chopra in the side. As with everything else, Raj took the additional responsibility in her stride, playing through injury to guide India to the final where they finished second best to Australia. Raj’s 91 not out off 104 balls in the semi-final of the World Cup against New Zealand attained cult status for those who watched the knock in person. Just like Kapil Dev’s swashbuckling 183 not out in the 1983 World Cup against Zimbabwe, there remains no archival footage of Raj’s brilliance in Potchefstroom.
Raj (right) with Heather Knight, the England women’s team captain ahead of the 2017 Women’s World Cup final at Lord'sICC
- Raj became the only Indian captain, male or female, to lead the national team in two separate 50-over World Cup finals when India narrowly missed out on glory against England at Lord’s in 2017. Arguably the most heartbreaking defeat in all of women’s cricket, Raj’s troops fell short of scripting history by nine runs. Between 2005 and 2017, the administration of women’s cricket in India had been taken up by the BCCI, heralding a new era for the sport, an era which Raj championed, just like the previous one.
- With 7,805 WODI runs to her name, Raj is the most prolific women’s batter of all time. The only player to get past 7,000 WODI runs, Raj is so far ahead at the top of the pile that the next best, England’s Charlotte Edwards, is almost 2,000 runs behind with an aggregate of 5,992 runs. Equally impressive is the fact that Raj’s tally came at an outstanding career average of 50.68, higher than what Sachin Tendulkar could manage (44.83) in the 50-over format for India.
- No woman has played more ODI matches than the 232 games in which Raj represented India. In fact, Raj is only one of two cricketers — the other being the fast bowler Jhulan Goswami — to have played more than 200 ODI matches in women’s cricket.
Jhulan Goswami (left) and Raj are the two leading appearance makers in the 50-overs format in women’s cricketTT archives
- Raj also holds the record for the most games captained by a woman, having led the women in blue for an unprecedented 155 times. Out of these, India triumphed on 89 occasions, giving Raj a healthy win rate of 58.55 per cent.
- Raj received the Arjuna Award, the second-highest sporting honour in India, all the way back in 2003. India’s highest sporting honour was bestowed on the cricketer some 18 years later, when she became a recipient of the Khel Ratna. In 2015, Raj was conferred with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award.
Raj receiving the Khel Ratna award from Ram Nath Kovind, the President of IndiaGovernment of India
- 2017 was among the most successful years of Raj’s career as, in spite of losing a World Cup final, she went on to be crowned Wisden’s leading female cricketer of the year alongside being named Vogue’s Sportsperson of the Year. The same year saw her collect the Youth Sports Icon of Excellence Award and get featured in BBC 100 Women.