The name that remained synonymous with women's cricket for the longest time is Mithali Raj.

When Mithali Raj entered the international arena in 1999 as a 16-year-old, little did anyone know that the young girl would change the face of Indian women’s cricket. 23 years later, she retired as one of the legends of the game, not just women’s cricket but international cricket overall. 

The numbers she produced during her India career are staggering, to say the least. She has 7805 runs from 232 ODIs, the most by any women cricketer by some distance. Former England captain Charlotte Edwards, who is second on the list, is more than 2000 runs behind her. That’s not all; Mithali also holds the record for the most runs by any female batter in women’s international cricket. She achieved the massive record by going past Edwards’ tally of 10,273 runs in July 2021. While the numbers are incredible, it would be unfair to judge the former Indian captain’s legacy just through her stats.

Redefining the women’s game in India 

Those who followed the Women’s T20 Challenge recently would be very well aware that the women’s game still gets secondary treatment in India compared to the men’s version. There were literally no crowds at the matches, and the timing of the games, sandwiched in between IPL 2022, meant that the viewership was also poor. However, the fact that the women’s game has a T20 tournament and an IPL is set to be held for them as well is a credit to the legacy of Mithali. 

When she made her international debut back in 1999, the women’s game in India was still struggling for relevance. It wasn’t as if the country hadn’t produced talented cricketers before Mithali. From Diana Edulji to Anjum Chopra and Neetu David, a number of female cricketers impressed with their talent and skills. However, with all due credit to the above names, Mithali was the first true superstar of Indian women’s cricket. She gave women’s cricket in India the belief that they can dominate world cricket. From her debut in 1999 till her retirement in 2022, it was with this belief that Mithali ruled world cricket. 

Her biggest contribution to the women’s game has been inspiring a generation of female cricketers to take up the sport and excel at it. It was because there was a Mithali that today we have the likes of Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur dominating the women’s game and taking Indian cricket forward in the right direction. In that sense, she was a pathbreaker. Had she not taken up the sport, Indian cricket would have been poorer today.

No World Cup but no worries 

A cricketer’s legacy is often gauged by how many world championships they have won. Mithali led India in two 50-over World Cups but could not lift the trophy. They suffered heartbreak in 2017 final, going down to England by nine runs after looking in command at one point of time. In the recently-concluded edition in New Zealand, a close three-wicket loss to South Africa cost them a place in the semi-finals. Mithali will surely be disappointed at not winning the ultimate prize in cricket for India. However, what she has done for the game in India is unparalleled. And when she looks back at her career, she can only feel a sense of pride and honor. 

As cliched as it may sound, no praise is too high for Mithali. She came, she saw, and she conquered women’s cricket. And what she has left behind is a trail of amazing memories and records that would be difficult to be broken. Mithali’s success story will also inspire the current players and future generations. When she began putting India on the world map, she was alone. Today, there are thousands who dream of doing the same. And that’s the indelible impact of Mithali Raj on the Indian women’s game. Shabaash Mithu is all we can say!

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