On 26 June 1999, Indian cricket was blessed with the arrival of a very special player into the international scene. I am not talking about Virender Sehwag – who made his international debut that year – or anyone else from the Indian men’s cricket team. I’m talking about India’s own wonder woman Mithali Raj.
She took the world by storm as she romped on to a century on her debut against Ireland at the Milton Keynes ground. She made her way into the record books as one among the only five women in the history of women’s ODIs till date to have scored a century on debut.
What made the feat even more special was her age at that time and the conditions in which she achieved the feat. She was 17 when she played one of the finest innings in the history of Indian women’s cricket and that too, in conditions which always had been Indian cricket’s Achilles Heel – the feat presented a clear picture of what she was about to become in the coming years.
18 years down the line, she is the leading run-scorer for the Indian women’s team in ODIs and T20Is and exhibits the same passion and hunger for runs that was visible in that 17-year old.
Over the years, the stalwart of the Indian women’s cricket team has proved her worth with the willow almost every time and in any kind of situation. She is one of those rare players who has been highly consistent throughout. That sums up why she is known as the Tendulkar of Indian women’s cricket.
Her Performance Year by Year
A total of 6028 runs in 183 ODIs, gives a thorough idea about her habit of scoring runs consistently. She is the leading run-scorer in ODIs, beating Charlotte Edwards’ record of 5,992 runs.
Moreover, her batting average is far superior to that of Edwards which stands at only 38.16. Her average is also the third best in women’s ODI history with Meg Lanning and Lindsay Reeler bettering her with averages of 54.12 and 57.44 respectively.
However, Lanning and Reeler have played only 61 and 23 ODIs respectively as compared to Raj’s 182 and that gives an idea about how consistent she has been all throughout her career.
Barring the years 2002, 2007 and 2011, Raj has always maintained a healthy batting average of over 40. The year 2010 was particularly memorable for her when she averaged a staggering 143.50 after having scored 4 fifties in consecutive innings in the five-match series against England women at home.
She is still going strong even today as she averages a mammoth 78.85 in this year so far. She has scored a total of 552 runs in 15 matches this year that includes 8 fifties as well.
Consistent Performances Against Different Oppositions
The 34-year old Indian skipper has also churned out runs almost at the same rate against each and every opposition. She has hardly ever been intimidated by any opposition and that makes her one of the most fearless cricketers in the world.
Her average has never dropped below 33 against any opposition which is considered as a fairly decent one in limited-overs cricket. It is only against Australia and New Zealand that she averages as low as 33.08 and 38.90 respectively. But that can be understood as both of those oppositions are known for their excellent bowling attacks and even an average of 30 for a batter against them is gold.
It is not that she has only performed well against weaker oppositions like Ireland and Sri Lanka. A total of 1,605 runs in 48 matches and 447 runs in 14 matches at averages of 48.63 and 44.70 against England and South Africa respectively prove how she has tamed the giants as well.
Consistency Both at Home and Away
Unlike most Indian batters who struggle to score outside home conditions, Raj has always given her top-notch performance in the opposition’s den as well. Her ODI average at home and away has a slight variation.
She averages 55.30 with 2,323 runs to her name in 71 ODIs at home. However, she doesn’t fall far behind in scoring outside home conditions also as she has scored 3,636 runs in 111 ODI matches at an average of a shade under 50. That tells us how she carries the burden of the Indian batting unit both at home and overseas conditions.
Contribution in India’s Win Percentage
Moreover, she influences India’s win percentage massively. All five ODI centuries of her career has come in winning causes and that sums up the importance she has in the Indian batting unit.
India have won 105 out of the 182 matches she has played for them till date and she averages a staggering 75.72 in those matches.
However, in the 73 matches that India has lost in her presence, she averages only 32.92 which differs by a large margin from her average in India’s victories.
Improved Numbers as Captain
Even the pressure of captaincy hasn’t done any harm to her. She has relished the role of captaincy and it is evident in her record. Her batting has only improved with the responsibility and she has developed into a more mature batter.
She has scored 3,473 runs in 91 innings as captain and that too at a mesmerising average of 56.93 whereas she averages a decent 45.20 in 72 innings without shouldering the load of captaincy.
So, the pressure has only increased her efficiency as a batter. When most of the players find it hard, she has churned out more consistent performances with the captain’s tag to her name.
The 34-year old skipper has proved her worth as their most valuable batter over the years and is continuing to do the same even now. She seems to be extremely fit for a woman of her age; temperament and experience is what sets her apart from other contemporary greats.
It seems that she still has plenty of cricket left in her. She led the Indian team to the final of the Women’s World Cup in 2005 but unfortunately failed to cross the last hurdle. This time, however, she will be looking to go all the way and lift the trophy in what might be her final World Cup.
(This article first appeared on The Quint on July 8, 2017)