Mithali Raj made her ODI debut two decades ago, as a precociously talented 16-year-old. She announced her arrival in style, with an unbeaten 114 against Ireland at Milton Keynes.
Mithali is now a seasoned campaigner — the most capped women’s ODI cricketer, and the highest run-scorer in the 50-over format. The list of accomplishments is long, but it is not time to rest on laurels yet.
A crucial 66 in the second ODI against South Africa here on Friday showed that Mithali has not lost her appetite for runs. Her solid knock, in the company of Punam Raut, set the stage for India to complete the highest-ever run chase in women’s ODI history.
Mithali brought her vast experience into play, piercing gaps efficiently. When third-man was up, she nudged the ball past the ’keeper, and danced down the track to loft the spinners over mid-off and cover. She may not be lighting quick between the wickets, but it was without risk. The skipper was busy at the crease, ensuring that the required run-rate never reached alarming levels.
Mithali’s dismissal in the 40th over brought the vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur to the middle. While Mithali is a clean, textbook batter, Harmanpreet is an exciting finisher. Mithali had got the team on the right track, passing the baton over to Harmanpreet with 53 runs needed in 62 balls.
Potent duo: Mithali Raj’s vast experience and Harmanpreet Kaur’s fine finishing skills power India in ODIs.
It was a perfect scenario for the attacking Harmanpreet to cut loose. After hitting three boundaries off pacer Shabnim Ismail in the 43rd over, Harmanpreet was off to the races. She sealed the fate of the match with an unbeaten 27-ball 39, taking India home comfortably with two overs to spare. The Mithali-Harmanpreet one-two punch had floored the South Africans.
Earlier this year, Mithali announced her retirement from T20Is to focus on the 2021 ODI World Cup. The decision came on the back of an acrimonious period, when Mithali was dropped for the World T20 semifinal against England last year. Mithali had accused the then coach Ramesh Powar of bias, while T20 captain Harmanpreet justified Mithali’s exclusion.
With new coach W.V. Raman at the helm, and T20Is out of the picture, Mithali and Harmanpreet must come together to lead India’s quest for a maiden World Cup title.
As the second ODI showed, India banks on Mithali and Harmanpreet in equal measure to achieve this dream.