After 23 glorious years, cricketer Mithali Raj pulled the curtains on her sporting career, gearing up for a “2nd innings” on June 8. The superstar sportswoman shared the news via a post on social media, in which she also thanked her fans for their love and support. Raj’s exit from cricket calls for a celebration of a dazzling carrier that broke barriers in a sport largely defined by men, especially in this cricket crazy nation. But not just cricket, Raj is a role model to many young girls in the country, who now dare to dream bigger, because with perseverance and talent you can not only achieve what you want but also usher in an era of change.
“Like all journeys, this one too must come to an end,” the cricketer wrote in her post, announcing that she was retiring from all forms of International Cricket. “I feel now is the perfect time to call curtains on my playing career as the team is in the capable hands of some very talented young players and the future of Indian Cricket is bright,” she further wrote in her announcement.
Raj also wrote that it was an honour to have led the Indian Women’s Cricket team for so many years. “It definitely shaped me as a person & hopefully helped shape Indian Women’s Cricket as well.” Raj wrote that she intended to stay involved in the game and contribute to the growth of Women’s Cricket, both in India and abroad.
Mithali Raj retires: Why we need to celebrate her career
The 39-year-old was awarded Major Dhyanchand Khel Ratna, India’s highest sporting honour, in 2021 and it seemed timely, looking at the long list of honours that she had added to her name over the last two decades. Raj holds the record for scoring the most runs in women’s international cricket, she is the only woman player to have crossed the 7,000 run mark in women’s ODI matches and she is also the first Indian woman to score 1,000 World Cup runs. While the accolades came later, the journey to setting a benchmark in women’s cricket began at the age of 16, with her debut in international cricket, in 1999.
Most of us grew up watching the rise of Indian cricket as our Men in Blue made sure that team India was a force to reckon with. Be it the 1983 and 2011 World Cup wins or the international recognition that the skills of legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni got. However, the frenzy around Men in Blue also reinforced the stereotype that cricket was a gentlemen’s game. Ladkiyaan cricket nahi khel sakti, more than one woman will have this childhood memory of being sent off the playground by boys or being reduced to the duties of the twelfth (wo)man. The reason most of us never developed an interest in playing cricket or even considered it a viable career option was because there was a dearth of homegrown women icons for us. All we saw was Men in Blue. Where were the women? Can girls even play cricket? Even if they do, are they as good as men?
But Raj broke this barrier and gave young girls in the country a Woman in Blue to look up to. What’s more, she amassed international fame, broke several records and when her talent was recognised by the world many budding women cricketers and lovers of the sport felt validated. Raj’s journey is that of persistence, patience and passion. It is not easy to dedicate over two decades of your life to a sport. And why sports, isn’t it true for most male-dominated professions? Where women have to keep pushing on their own to prove their worth, to gain recognition, so that others can follow their footsteps and overcome even more barriers?
This is why we must celebrate Raj’s illustrious career today, and who knows, the innings might yet not be over. If the announcement is anything to go by, Raj will now be a guiding light from the sidelines and would have a much bigger role to play- that of directing the very young girls who followed the path that she laid.
The views expressed are the author’s own.