It’s a crucial game. A huge target to chase. India loses early wickets. They are in big trouble. The player’s walk of shame to the dugout is overshadowed by someone who is walking in. The girl looks up and comes in to take the strike. While the situation is so hard, you’d see her walking in with all cool, just like she is going to a cinema hall. She gets in. She sees the ball, runs ones and occasionally twos play those cut shots and most importantly, those pretty cover drives. In a whisker, she takes India to a good total. Sometimes she completes the chase, while at times she leaves when the team is close winning it. If she leaves a few runs for the lower order batters to chase, while everyone around her is biting nails and are all tensed, you might see her turning the pages of the book. That’s how she is, and that is Mithali Raj.
Dear Mithali Raj,
I was 5 to 6 years old when I first knew your name. That was the age when I started picking up my role model. Of course, at that age, just like everyone else, I fell in love with Sachin Tendulkar. Blame the exposure when it comes to women cricket at that time. Thanks to my father who used to make me read the newspaper at that age and I managed to catch a glimpse of you when you smashed a ton on your debut against Ireland. It was a tiny piece of article, literally was not even 200 words. Now, imagine the coverage we had for the women’s cricket. In a way, it motivated me to follow you more. I used to check for your score on the papers and used to imagine how you would have got it. I was so young back then. It was more like a newspaper relationship with you until I watched you live some years later. It was magical. It was beautiful. I once again fell in love with you when you artistically took on bowlers, pierced the gaps and once again those cover drives and straight drives. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, I had to wait for years to watch you live again. Years later, I remember crying when India went down to New Zealand in the semi-final of the 2000 World Cup. I blamed you. I blamed your stupid fever. If you were doing good, India not only would have gone further but also would have finished well on the table. I was angry. I was a poor kid. I even remember writing my diary, telling that I miss Mithali. That poor kid also found it funny to write “I Miss Mithali” because Miss and Mithali rhymed a bit. It is in a way funny to read how my love for goes years back and how innocent and desperate I was in order to watch you play.
I hilariously “promised” myself that in the next World Cup, 2005, you would lead India from the front. And you did. You took the team to the final but unfortunately, we couldn’t cross the final hurdle. Of course, I was even more heartbroken. We were lucky to have the relay for that World Cup and It certainly did hit me hard to see you sad.
I still remember how my father had to walk through a lot of shops in search of your poster because I wanted it. He finally got it printed from a local shop. Though it was a tiny picture, that picture motivated me in many ways. I used to dream how you’d wake up all early and try to practice the game hard and how you would go through all the struggles. Less did I know that you were a sleepy head and hated to wake up early. In fact, that only made me fall in love with you even more.
My favourite moment happened in 2007 when India took on England in Chennai. I was there among very tiny amount crowd that witnessed you scoring a half-century. Rumeli Dhar’s 74 was beautiful but your 55 had something special. When you were in your 30s, you played through the mid-wicket and the ball came towards me. I was excited to see the ball but most importantly, I was young and stupid enough to think that you were looking at me while running. Now, I do know that you were looking at the ball but that very moment stayed with me for a long time. My father was good enough not to jinx it and he encouraged me telling that you certainly were looking at me because I’m your super fan. It is funny to look back now.
You slowly climbed the ranking and became the number one player in ODI cricket. At that time, I was kind of grown up and had a blog for myself where I wrote about the same. I was excited to cover more about you and women’s cricket.
Coming to the 2017 World Cup, when the world finally looked at you, you were breaking records in the World Cup. You became the highest run-getter, You took India to the finals twice and there were many records. It was so great for me to see the people talk good about you, something which was a long due.
I laughed, I wept, I roared for you and will continue to do so. I know you don’t have a lot of years left in you and you have already called it a day in the shortest form of the game. Still, I will take match by match, day by day and stay happy that I was able to watch you play the game. Maybe, someday, I will meet you to show you my collections and tell you how much you inspired me and you are one of the main reasons why I’m obsessed about women’s cricket.
Thank you for inspiring a generation. Thank you for inspiring me. I love you.
PS- This is my mother’s favourite picture of Mithali.