When one looks at the contributions of Mithali Raj, it is phenomenal. She is the only woman’s cricketer to reach 6000 ODI runs and is the leading run-getter in Women’s Twenty20 International for India. In fact, in Twenty20 Internationals, she has more runs than Rohit Sharma, Martin Guptill and Virat Kohli. She has been part of two World Cup finals in 2005 and 2017. She has also been part of Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals in 2010 and 2018. She was the first Indian cricketer to hit a double century in Tests and she led India to their first-ever Test series win in England. In the list of glorious achievements for women’s cricket in India, Mithali features prominently. As captain, player, Mithali is the sole reason why women’s cricket is thriving.
Today, the Indian legend turns 36 years. Her birthday should ideally be the celebration of women’s cricket in India. Tragically, this year, her birthday will be celebrated in a more somber mood, considering all the stories emerging out of the Indian women’s cricket team camp following their exit in the semi-final of the World T20 against England at North Sound, Antigua last month. Her benching in the crunch match has resulted in plenty of skeletons tumbling out of the closet, with Mithali’s manager calling Harmanpreet Kaur, the current skipper of the Indian cricket team, a “manipulative, lying and undeserving” captain. This, in turn, led to another storm. The face-off between Powar and Mithali, in which the former India offspinner called Mithali ‘aloof’ and ‘difficult to handle’ resulted in another controversy which has seen Powar not offered the extension to his coaching tenure.
It is the current scenario which makes Mithali’s birthday this year a bit more tragic. As someone who gave women’s cricket in India such a massive boost, the current scenario is heartbreaking.
Semi-final benching leads to storm
When Mithali was not picked in the playing XI, Harmanpreet said they took the decision for the interest of the team. However, things took an ugly turn when Mithali’s manager Annisha Gupta insulted Harmanpreet and said, “The kind of treatment she has received is completely uncalled for and there is something deeper than we need to look at than just the statements that have been coming out. The kind of favouritism that has been shown is very apparent. I think everybody can see that is being shown to certain members of the team,” Gupta said at that time.
Following this controversy, Mithali broke her silence in a scathing email to the BCCI when she said Powar humiliated her during the World T20 in the West Indies and she was left in tears after the axing from the team.
When the Committee of Administrators jumped into the fray and demanded Mithali’s fitness logs, things got murkier. In a leaked report, Harmanpreet, Powar and selector Sudha Shah met to decide the playing XI and drop Mithali. Trupti Bhattacharya, the team manager of the Indian women’s team, said in her report the captain, coach and selector said the same winning combination against Australia should play. The report added that Sudha Shah did not express anything and was a ‘mere spectator’.
Mithali lashed out at Powar in a letter sent to Rahul Johri, the BCCI CEO and Cricket Operations GM Saba Karim by saying, “For the first time in a 20 year long career, I felt deflated, depressed and let down. I am forced to think if my services to my country are of any value to a few people in power who are out to destroy me and break my confidence.” She also accused Diana Edulji, the member of the CoA of bias, stating that Edulji’s brazen support to the decision of her benching in the semifinal left her "deeply distressed"
Perhaps the current emotional state of Mithali can be summed up with the words she used when her opportunity to win the World Cup for India was missed. “I wanted to win the World Cup for my country and it hurts me because we lost a golden opportunity,” Mithali had said. For all her achievements, the only sore points in her glorious career could be the fact that she never could help India win the cup. Her 36th birthday is a celebration of a legend, but it is also the sad reality that Mithali’s playing days for India are numbered.