India captain Mithali Raj has scores of 75 n.o. (86b), 59 (92b), and 72 (108) in the One-Day International leg of the multi-format tour of England. Two of those innings have come in thumping losses to the host, while the latest of those saw her secure India its first win of the tour and become the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket, overtaking English legend Charlotte Edwards along the way.
Despite her consistency, however, the focus does not shift away from her slow strike-rate, and the criticism is not without reason. Mithali is the quintessential sheet-anchor, but several others in the lineup, from Punam Raut to Harmanpreet Kaur, have also dropped back to playing it safe and taking far too long to get going. The Indian side registered 181 dot balls in the first ODI (30.1 overs), 188 in the second (31.3 overs), and 150 dots on Saturday (25 overs). The question then becomes: shouldn’t a set and confident Mithali look to score more and keep the runs coming?
“I do read that the criticism is in strike-rate. Look, I don’t seek validation from people, I have been playing for a long time. I have a responsibility and I am here to play the role assigned to me,” Mithali told reporters after the game.
It’s a role she came good in as she worked on her strike-rate en-route to hitting the winning boundary that gave India a four-wicket win in the last one-day fixture at Worcester.
Mithali hails the record as the purpose of all the trials and tribulations her 22-year-long career has seen.
“I think the way things have gone, it was not an easy journey. It has its own challenges. I believe trials have a purpose. There were times I wanted to give up but something kept me going. Twenty-two years on, the hunger to score runs has not ended, to be there in the middle and win games for India has not ended,” she said.
England has been a favoured hunting ground for the Indian captain, with many key milestones in her career coming there.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing against England in England. They say English conditions are difficult but I’ve scored bulk of my runs on this soil. I’ve come here off bad form and found my rhythm here. I was here in ’99 and it’s come full circle. I hope my form continues in the series to come as well,” she added.
The 38-year-old found herself in familiar waters when the quick wickets derailed India’s momentum despite the team chasing as per preference. She found support in the likes of Jhulan Goswami and Sneh Rana, whom she hails as a talent for the future. Rana took on the mantle of being the pinch-hitter, a role India has long struggled to cement in its scheme of things.
“Credit to Sneh Rana for the partnership. She kept her calm and did the job. That’s a slot we’ve always looked for somebody who has the shots to clear the field – strong shots all around. And it helps to have a player there who can also bowl. So it’s good to have her in the side,” Mithali said.
“She’s definitely shown that she does have the character in her to be built into a good player. In the current era, in modern cricket, all-rounders play a very important role in the composition of the team. I’m sure that she has a bigger role playing for India in the coming years.”
‘I’m sure that she has a bigger role playing for India in the coming years.’ – Mithali Raj on Sneh Rana (in picture)
The game also saw an agonising lean patch endure for the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues. The India vice-captain has scores of 1 (7), 19 (39), and 16 (38) while Rodrigues managed 8 (15) and 4 (21) in the two games she got. Mithali is not too concerned about the two explosive batters finding form, though.
“It does happen with any player. We also know that single-handedly she has won games for us with her innings. This time around she needs the support of the team to back her,” Mithali said about her deputy.
“It’s just a matter of one innings for a batter like her to get her rhythm and timing. I’m sure with the T20 format, a format that suits her game, I really hope she will be back among the runs.”
Rodrigues’ form poses a bigger question to a side that’s trying to cement its No. 3 batter in the run-up to the ODI World Cup next year.
“A young player – obviously, she will take some time. It’s just a matter of experience and exposure for players like her. When a player goes through bad form, as players, seniors, and team management we can give her the confidence and the backing, but it boils down to the player herself to have that belief to come out of the (poor) form,” she added.
While she is confident of what the win does for the girls going into the T20 leg of the tour, Mithali’s own focus now will be on the ODI side and her own batting leading up to the Australia series later this year and, by extension, the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand.
“Now the series is over, but we do have a few names and players in our mind,” she said about that unsettled batting order.
“Again, it’s important that we need to see how they fit into the team. Purists are very few in the modern era of cricket. We need to look at the all-rounders also and how the composition of the team will come is very crucial. But that’s also an area we are looking at, No. 3 and even No. 6 and No. 7,” she said.
“As far as the composition, right now we are going with five bowlers but something we are looking at is to have another all-rounder in the side. But, then again, it cuts down a purist – whether a batter or a bowler. We are throwing some ideas. By the next series, we should see what sort of a pool of players we look at and get into the team,” Mithali added.