HYDERABAD: On June 26 way back in 1999 at Milton Keynes in England, a 16-year-old Mithali Raj opened the innings for India and became the youngest player to score an ODI century on debut. It has been an innings which has seen no closure in the last 21 years as the Hyderabad player has gone on to establish one record after the other.
Excerpts of a chat with the Indian women’s ODI captain.
21 and going strong
This one year has almost gone. The ride has been quite adventurous because I have seen so many changes in women’s cricket – both global as well as domestic. I am one of those players who played from the era of WCAI to BCCI, from IWCC to ICC, from empty stadiums to full packed ones, from county grounds to international stadiums. I have seen everything that women’s cricket has come to be today.
My own personal journey too has been parallel to the transition of women’s cricket. I began my journey as a captain when I was just 21-22 and leading the Indian side for so many years has helped me also grow as a person. My growth as a person pretty much has happened on the ground along with teammates.
From making my international debut as a 16-year-old to now 37, it has been a good 21 years of my prime life spent not at home but at the ground – different countries, hotels, grounds, coaches, travel etc. It’s been a very privileged journey. Of course there have been some lows, which is very natural. Again these are the things that actually helped me grow – bad decisions, a low phase as a batter or a series of losses as a captain – and develop a different perspective and to understand things better. My growth, in terms of mental capacity, increased by going through those phases. I can only say that I am quite lucky to be seen with different eras, generations.
When I made my debut I had a lot of seniors in the side, then players of my own age group, then juniors and now am rubbing shoulders with teenagers. It’s actually the fourth generation of players and a rarity for a player to achieve it. Sachin (Tendulkar), of course, has gone through it. I can only say that I am privileged and lucky.

Mithali Raj (Getty Images)
Debut game
It’s way too far back. Honestly, I don’t remember much of that game. I do have some pictures and go through those sometimes. It just reminds me of how nervous I was on that day – about representing the country and the burden of expectations. Also those days there wasn’t the culture of handing over a cap etc. It was just everyone got into a bunch and entered the field and that’s it. Now, I get to give the cap to debutants and it’s great to see the happiness on the face of the youngsters. But for me, there was no such thing as I actually didn’t understand much at that time. It was more of pressure on a kid who was among many senior players. I was much in awe of the weightage of expectations.
High point
I cannot actually pinpoint one high point as everything has led to a different high point. Say like the world record led to me leading India to the runners-up spot in the 2005 World Cup final and that led to doing well in the Test matches and in 2014 too we did well. Every milestone gave me more confidence and also for the team that they could push a little higher. Each time we had a good match, we knew we could do better. However, what started the stone rolling was the 2005 World Cup and it was important in terms of changing the players’ mindset.
Until then we just were participants in the events and nowhere near the big teams. But once we did well in that tournament, we knew we could beat anyone and that was inculcated in the youngsters. Not many know that we played the qualifiers in the 2017 World Cup and coming from there to be No.2 was a huge step and that happened because of the winning streak we had. We were literally on par with Australia – in terms of winning streak – in that year. These things do matter when it comes to the psychological preparations of a player and the team.
Low point
Many people will think of controversies but for me that was not in my hand. That was something which happened and I just went through the whole thing. As a cricketer and captain, the lowest has the 2013 World Cup as it happened in India. Being the host team, we couldn’t qualify for the Super Six and it was a big platform to do well and showcase women’s cricket. At that point of time, I thought that was the ideal platform for the sport to take wings. I felt that I lost a chance there to take the game to a different level.

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