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Mithali Raj Leaves T20I Stage With Legend Status Assured

Mithali Raj led India in their first ever Twenty20 International, against England in 2016. As many as 13 years later, she leaves the stage knowing the future is in safe hands. One just has to see the recently concluded Kia Super League T20 tournament in England to get pointers about the future of India Women; the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana are stars already, and younger ones like Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma are rising quickly.

Karthik Lakshmanan |September 5, 2019, 10:25 AM IST
Mithali Raj Leaves T20I Stage With Legend Status Assured

Mithali Raj led India in their first ever Twenty20 International, against England in 2016. As many as 13 years later, she leaves the stage knowing the future is in safe hands. One just has to see the recently concluded Kia Super League T20 tournament in England to get pointers about the future of India Women; the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana are stars already, and younger ones like Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma are rising quickly.

Much of that is inspired by Mithali herself. India now has plenty of stars - current and upcoming - but in her prime, Mithali was almost always by herself. She was the inspiration for many in the dressing room, and hope for many girls taking a bat for the first time.

In her 13-year career, Mithali has managed plenty of records. She is India's highest run-scorer in the format with 2364 runs from 89 T20Is at an average close to 38. She is the first Indian woman with two T20 centuries. She leaves the stage as the sixth highest scorer ever in T20Is across teams. She has led India in 32 T20Is, including the World T20s in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

And guess what? She doesn't even like T20s!

“Do you enjoy T20s?” asks Gaurav Kapur in an interview with Mithali Raj for the YouTube show ‘Breakfast with Champions’.

"No," she shoots back without a thought. “If there were (regular) Test matches, I wouldn't have got into this format. (I play T20s) because we don't play Test matches or one-dayers as frequently.”

Mithali began her T20I career in the top or middle order before becoming an opener in 2014, allowing herself to maximise field restrictions given she has never been a big hitter. However, the women’s game has changed a lot over the last couple of years. With a couple of T20 leagues coming up in Australia and England, and India too getting a mini version, the game has become more about power-hitting – not Mithali’s forte.

Mithali went through an entire year in 2017 without a single T20I. She rose briefly but her form tapered off gradually in the lead up to the World T20 last year, where it all went wrong. India had got a new coach in Ramesh Powar, who has insisted on being positive and flexible. The roles of seniors were changed; Jhulan Goswami retired from the format, Shikha Pandey didn’t find a place in the squad.

Mithali was still there, but her strike rate was in focus, and she was even dropped down to the middle order and subsequently out of the XI in the semifinal, where India collapsed to defeat. The acrimony that followed did no one any good, and definitely didn't paint Mithali's wonderful legacy well.

Yet, India will be glad that she has set her eyes on the 50-over World Cup in 2021. That is a format she loves much more than T20s, and that's a trophy that has evaded her forever. She came as close as it gets in 2017, where India lost a thrilling final to England. She'll be 38 by the time she gets another shot at the trophy; if giving up T20Is is what it takes to get there, nobody will complain.

India Women cricket won't ever be the same, but Mithali can be content she leaves the stage in good hands.

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