Interview with Team India Captain Mithali Raj
In conversation with the talented Mithali Raj, star batsman and captain of the Indian women’s cricket team.
Photo credits: BCCL
What are your reflections on the recently concluded Women’s T20 World Cup?
The T20 tournament was a crucial step for me personally as it was the first time I opened the batting. I am happy with my personal performance as a batsman but not very happy with the team’s performance as a captain. We were late bloomers in the tournament as there were several changes in the side and many girls were playing at the World Cup for the first time. That said, the young girls will be able to take a lot of experience back home and come back better equipped next T20.
As a woman cricketer, did you have to often deal with gender stereotypes?
In the early 1990s girls’ cricket was not known. That time, the kind of feedback from my own grandparents was quite demotivating. Even so, my parents protected me from all the negativity and so nothing really affected me. There were so many funny misconceptions about women’s cricket too. People would question me, “Do you bowl underarm? Do you have shorter boundaries?”
How have you seen the state of women’s cricket improve over the years?
The state players are now being managed very well because we are under the BCCI umbrella. Additionally, we get monetary benefits from the domestic circuit and international fixtures. Cricket is now a profession you can sustain yourself with.
What further impetus does women’s cricket need?
We should get to play more games. Currently, we play just two international series every year. The more we play, the quicker younger players will get exposure. Due to the huge gap between series, it becomes difficult to maintain momentum. Compare this with Australia or England where the seasons are chalked out one or two years in advance. Televising the games live will also make a huge difference. For girls, domestic cricket tournaments start with only Under-16 while boys have every kind of level. There would be more emphasis on inter-school seasons, for example, to encourage girls from a young age.
What are you looking forward to in IPL 7?
With foreign players in the side, local players get overshadowed. I want to see the local players make an impression this season. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how the players adapt to the climatic conditions across two countries.
Favourite player in IPL 7?
AB de Villiers from RCB – As a player I really like him. From the very first ball he plays such different strokes. He plays so much with the crease leaving the opposition wondering where he’s going to move. No other player has such innovative shots. It is so entertaining to see him batting! His stroke work seems so easy on TV but I’m sure he has worked for hours to master every stroke. I wonder when I will get to play such strokes!
IPL for women’s cricket – likely in the near future?
This would take another 1-2 years before it is a viable idea. People are yet to follow women’s cricket, while in a format like IPL, people need to be aware of every single player.
Mithali Raj, off the field…
I am a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. If not a cricketer, I would have been a dancer. I occasionally spend time sketching, but only when I’m at peace during the off season. I enjoy reading too. My favourite author is Mathew Reilly.
Words of inspiration of aspiring women cricketers?
As with any profession, you will need to make sacrifices to completely focus on your career. A lot of people give up in the middle—don’t! Work hard on your basics as those are the foundations which you build your career on.
Photo credits: BCCL