Mithali Raj is the highest scorer in the world in Women’s ODI cricket history with 7098 runs in 193 innings at an average of 51.06 including 7 hundreds and 55 fifties. She has had to go through a lot of struggle and pain and brave injuries for most of her career to make a name for herself in international cricket. In an exclusive to CricketNext, Raj says that her ability to endure and bear pain for such a long period made her tough and mentally strong in her approach and temperament. She also was grateful to the facilities provided by the BCCI in the last ten years and her coaches who helped her through her period of trial.
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“I started to understand my training set up, tried to be smart about how I wanted to train with the injury, I worked my way through. I was planning to retire after the 2009 World Cup. The extent of the pain was that bad. That was the World Cup in which we came under the International Cricket Council, our matches were televised on television. I saw the happiness in my dad when he saw me bat. Otherwise, nobody really knew how Mithali played. Even my dad had not seen me play for the country. But seeing somebody live on TV was a very different thing. I saw so much happiness in my dad. I said, ‘if this is how it is, let me push for another two years’."
Raj added that pushed herself in training and that gave her the courage to play with the pain.
“How was I going to do it when I had already thought of retiring? That’s when I got back to understanding how I’d like to train. I would push myself in my preparation, in my training like how I would do in matches. So that my pain barrier increases, my body is able to take that and I can still go out there and perform. I would put all that in my training session and see if I could push myself for two years, allowing my dad to actually watch me play for the country. Slowly, there were different ways of doing it. Despite the pain, I actually went out there and played. That made me mentally strong. After a point, your body is used to that pain. It was a part of me for a long period. I always told people what it meant to do anything without pain in my knees. From there, I come to a point where today I am actually the fittest. I have really worked on my fitness."
She thanked her trainer Varun Shetty who was a great support to her and added that she was at her fittest now than in the three years between 2017 and 2019. She tried innovative ways to keep fit even during the lockdown with zoom classes with her trainer. Raj was also grateful to the coaches at the NCA and the support staff there to help her build her endurance and stamina.
“It has got a lot to do with my trainer. We started literally from the scratch, from the fundamentals for the last six-seven months. I am by far the fittest now than in 2017, 2018 and 2019. My trainer from Bengaluru, Varun Shetty, helped me a lot. When things began to open a bit after the lockdown, I travelled to Bengaluru, and this was before the Women’s IPL in Dubai. During the lockdown, we did zoom classes. I took a bit of risk, trained under him for a month. He told me one thing, “Mithali, you will not retire because you are not fit. You will retire only when you don’t have the desire in you. I will ensure that fitness is not the reason for you to retire.” When there is this person who has given me the confidence, it is also my duty to invest everything into it. I just wanted to be a fit player, and wanted my fitness to be better. Credit also goes to NCA trainer Naresh and the NCA support staff for helping me develop endurance."
She added that the pain made her tougher and mentally stronger and the NCA played a significant part in her transformation.
“I would say that the pain made me stronger. I would have preferred that my peak years were without the pain. But, it did help me become stronger that even today, if I have some injury, I am still able to go out and play, I know my body much better. With NCA, things are much better for the players. They don’t have to go through what I went through. NCA makes you understand. Before the BCCI merger, we did not know how to take care, what were the things we should not be doing. Going to NCA, we have been educated, in case of injury, what are the things to do, how to prevent it from getting worse. It is just not about skill. Injury prevention is also something that the players need to be educated with, which we had access only after the BCCI takeover."
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