Over the past two decades, few cricketers have distinguished themselves as Mithali Raj. The mid-ranked Indian batsman plundered races for fun, etched her name in cricketing folklore countless times, and was the torch bearer of India’s women’s cricket team.
Yet for a career that has seen her reach extraordinary heights, something is not right. For most cricketers, 7623 ODI runs – that too at an average of 51.85, would be a dream come true. For someone like Mithali, however, that might not matter much. Well, at least until the final frontier – the Women’s World Cup – is conquered.
In 2017, India was on the verge of winning the title. They found themselves in the ascendancy against England in the summit clash but floundered just when it mattered. After that, their ODI cricket may have gone on a slightly downward trajectory and they were consistently topped by countries like Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.
That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean much, especially when it comes to a high-pressure competition like the World Cup – an environment where hitters of Mithali’s ilk typically stamp their authority.
Should that happen, Mithali may need to develop a hitting mechanic that better suits his team. Since the start of 2021, she has been in excellent contact when it comes to races. No female batsman has scored more runs in the WODIs than she has during this period (735 runs at 66.81).
However, she has the second-worst strike rate among the top ten run-getters (71.01), suggesting she hasn’t really been able to step up a gear. Sometimes this has been the result of India’s middle order dysfunction. But there were also occasions when his shots stifled the momentum of the women in blue in the middle of the overs.
That, along with putting even more pressure on a middle order under fire, led to India posting lackluster totals – totals that were tracked down quite easily by more powerful hitting units.
Even in the recently concluded ODI series against New Zealand, Mithali pocketed three half centuries. Only one of them (in the 5th ODI) resulted in a victory. Interestingly enough, this 50s came in a chase – something Mithali seems to have mastered.
However, when she first strikes, she may have to step out of her comfort zone a bit and become the all-conquering presence she can be for the Women In Blue. India haven’t won a WODI at bat for the first time since November 2019. And, with a batter such as Mithali dictating the proceedings, it’s a record they may want to correct sooner rather than later.
From a personal perspective too, this competition could be where everything falls into place for one of India’s greatest exponents of cricket. She defined a generation of cricketers – much like Jhulan Goswami. Yet, as long as a World Cup crown is missing from the trophy cabinet, it will feel like there is a void.
For most cricketers, that might not occupy their minds too much because, well, they’ve accomplished so much else. But for someone like Mithali, who prides herself on being the best in the business, a World Cup triumph is, in all likelihood, the final frontier.
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