An Interview With Mithali Raj
Mithali Raj has already reached the zenith of Women's cricket and is undoubtedly India's most successful captain. At the age of 9, when most girls are busy playing with dolls, Mithali Raj was already holding a cricket bat.
How hard is it breaking into the world of cricket?
Breaking in is difficult, but what is tougher is staying at the top. It requires consistency, focus, dedication, meticulous planning and hard, persistent training over the years. I have seen many players break into the side, only to disappear after a season or two.
Do you think that cricket can still be called a gentleman's game?
Well, yes. Compared to many modern day sports like football and rugby, cricket has still been able to maintain the gentlemanly spirit around it. Of course, the game today is not what it was in the 1960's, but then no sport, including tennis and golf, is what it used to be. The competition is tougher, the pressure is immense but you still don't get to see men or women beating each other up on the cricket field. It is still, as before, a great contest between the skill of a bowler and a batsman. The umpires and the referees are still in absolute control of the proceedings, with tough code-of-conduct laws to back their decisions.
Do you follow IPL? Which team do you support?
Yes, I do. In fact, I view it more, so as to work on my T20 game. I support Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals.
Do you think a tournament like the IPL would work for Indian women cricketers too?
Well, it can, but with a greater focus on marketing and profiling of both Indian and foreign players. It might be good to have the women's games as a curtain raiser to the men's games.
What do you think of RCB? Who are your favourite RCB players?
RCB has Virat Kohli, who has been one of the most successful players over the last two years. Then there's Chris Gayle, and we all know how he can turn things around. Basically, RCB has such star cricketers that people would love to watch. RCB has a great team. They are strong in the batting department, but the bowling department, barring Vettori, looks a little thin. All in all, RCB has enough firepower to be a top contender for the IPL trophy.
RCB has started a website called RCB DIVA, dedicated to women fans and players. What are your views on this?
I think it's a splendid initiative. A lot of people think only men or boys watch the game, but the truth is many women, of all ages, watch IPL regularly. This kind of initiative would help women in identifying themselves with the IPL.
A lot of men think women don't understand cricket. What do you have to say about that?
Women rarely get their due credit in the workplace. It is no different when it comes to cricket. In a strong patriarchal society, the strength and intelligence of women is a subject of perpetual scrutiny. But despite all odds, women are, slowly and steadily, making their presence felt. Women do understand cricket and they can commentate on a men's game just as they do for a women's game.
Do you think the lack of popularity of women's cricket is restricted to India, or is it a global problem? Do you think the ICC is doing enough for the growth of women's cricket?
Women's cricket is definitely more popular in countries like England and Australia. Over there, most of their T20 games are curtain raisers for the men's game. There is a lot of emphasis on building player profiles and marketing. The ICC is doing its bit in popularising T20, but I wish to play a Test match, which I haven't in a really long time.
Who are your favourite male cricketers?
Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara.
Which is your favourite shot?
Who is that one bowler, from any point in cricket history, male or female, you would love to bat against?
What is your message to young girls in India who want to grow up to be cricketers?
Take to cricket. You can make a living out of it if you play at the highest level. Also, nothing compares to the joy of playing for your country.
Correspondent: Taruka Srivastav
Image Courtesy: The Hindu