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Not Her Favoured Format, But Mithali Raj Underlines Immense Value to Indian Cause

Karthik Lakshmanan |November 12, 2018, 3:31 PM IST
Not Her Favoured Format, But Mithali Raj Underlines Immense Value to Indian Cause

“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.”

For someone who doesn’t ‘enjoy’ T20, Mithali has done quite well in the format. In a 12-year T20I career, she has 2232 runs with 16 half-centuries and an average above 37. She is the first Indian woman with two T20 centuries, with her 105 for India A against Australia A last month being the highest T20 score by an Indian woman.

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Her latest half-century helped India get past Pakistan in a potentially tricky chase in a crucial ICC Women’s World T20 match in Guyana.

Importantly, it showed that she’s still an invaluable player in a side filled with aggressive players like Jemimah Rodrigues, Harmanpreet Kaur, Taniya Bhatia. For the first time in her 12-year career in the format, Mithali wasn’t required to bat in the first game of the World T20, against New Zealand.

Without her contribution, India had amassed a winning total of 194 for 5 against New Zealand. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds; India were 40 for 3 with Bhatia, Mithali’s replacement at the top, scoring just nine.

The move to replace Mithali at the top showed an intent to aim high, which India ended up achieving. But the situation in the second match was different. The chase was tricky, and India had been very sloppy in the first half; there were plenty of drop catches and fielding lapses, allowing Pakistan to post a competitive score. India were lucky to start their chase with a ten-run bonus thanks to Pakistan batters running on the danger zone of the pitch twice.

India thus needed stability at the top, someone who could bring calm to proceedings after a mad 20 overs. Who better than Mithali to provide that?

As her captain Harmanpreet Kaur explained after the game, the decision to go back to Mithali was down to her ability to negotiate Pakistan’s spinners. Pakistan used six bowlers, of which only one – Diana Baig – was a medium pacer. Mithali scored 10 off 11 balls from Baig, and eventually fell to her. Against the five other spinners, she scored 46 off 36 to keep India moving ahead.

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In fact, it was Mithali who powered India in the Power Play and set the tone. India reached 48 without loss in the first six with Mithali scoring 20 off 16. Meanwhile, the usually aggressive Smriti Mandhana managed only 16 off her first 20. Mithali was at ease against the barrage of spin, coming down the track and going deep in the crease. She cut and drove through the off-side, and also flicked and whipped through the leg. By the time she fell, the game was in the bag.

It’s perhaps clear now that India will use her at the top in low/modest run chases, like in the match against Pakistan. It’s a role that suits her too. 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, the game has become more about power-hitting – not Mithali’s forte.

Yet, after going through an entire year in 2017 without a single T20I, Mithali began 2018 with three half-centuries in four innings in South Africa. She followed it up with another half-century at home against England, but the form tapered off gradually in the Asia Cup and the subsequent tour of Sri Lanka.

Over the next 11 innings, Mithali scored above 25 only once, during an unbeaten 97 against Malaysia. It was also a time when India 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 ahead of the World T20, Shikha Pandey didn’t find a place in the squad.

But Mithali is still around. She might not be needed for every situation, but as the Pakistan match showed, she still has a big role in the format she prefers least.

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more