Mithali Raj’s legacy is her longevity: Anjum Chopra weighs in on former captain’s impact on Indian cricket | Cricket News

Mithali Raj bid goodbye to all forms of cricket a couple of days ago, with a small note on her social media channels. A career spanning 23 years came to an end with some words written on a paper. There would be no Mithali Raj cover drive anymore, that effortless attempt to brighten a dull day in a cricket game. There would not be the guaranteed assurance in the Indian middle order and a captain who took her team to two World Cup finals. Mithali leaves behind a great legacy. The fact that she has done that in women’s cricket speaks volumes of her greatness as building a career in such a a sport which had little support, would not have been so easy. 

Zee News English spoke to cricketer-turned-broadcaster Anjum Chopra, who has seen Mithali grown from a the next big thing in Indian cricket to a legend. 

Excerpts:  

Q. To start with, with Mithali’s retirement, what has suddenly gone missing in the Indian dressing room? What is this dressing room going to be miss the most?

It is a difficult question to answer. It could be Mithali Raj, the batter, the icon that every youngster looks up to in the dressing room. I am sure they are going to miss her but other than that it is her batting. Indian batters would feel if they don’t take up that No 3 or 4 position, they will miss that. 

Q. Mithali made her international debut in 1999 and you were there in the side as a senior? What was your first impression of her?

So yeah she was a kid when she started playing for India. We were pretty close to each other. She has always been a very technically correct batter so there was never a doubt that she would never make it to the Indian team. Or would not make it big. The talent was always there with her. But it is always the talent that gets indentified and then what the player makes of it once they get the opportunity. So she made most of it from the start as well. The first tour of England did not go well for her. But after that, snce 2000 she was a much improved player in terms of taking up the role and taking responsibility. 

Q. Could you for the sake of gaining perspective on how difficult it was to pursue women’s cricket for you or Mithali or Jhulan in that pre-BCCI period, put some light on that era, that what was it really like? In terms of remuneration, playing conditions and facilities?

It was difficult and it is still difficult. I won’t say that it has become a sport which is playing you a salary. Until unless you are in the contracted players list which is of course different and varied. But it is still not a sport which is going to play untill and unless you are employed by one of the institutions which of course right now is just the Railways. 

In the pre-BCCI era, it was of course a little difficult. But the difficulty was not borne by us. We were just the players. It was the administrators who used to look for sponsors, make sure the team is travelling, going overseas or playing here. The facilities were definitely a lot more different. After BCCI came over, the entire infrastructure was there for all the female players to access. So those difficulties or those differences were there. So remuneration has got a lot, lot better. Because earlier when I started playing there wasn’t any remuneration. And even after BCCI took over, in the initial years, there was a small amount that was paid to the players for the entire series. From those days to where we are today, it is definitely a million times better. But there is still a lot of scope for improvement. 

Q. You know we understand that longevity is a huge thing in sport, especially in cricket. That is why Sachin Tendulkar is ranked above all as he carried the burden for 24 long years. In the same way, Mithali has done it for 23 years. But do you think for a woman to do that, it is a more challenging task?

A long career for any athlete is a big thing. Yes, it might be easier for a male player than a female player. But if you do not talk about the gender part, for any player across sports, to have a long career speaks volumes. For Mithali, for Sachin, for anyone, they have had long careers is a huge thing. And it is not only just about being around there but also about making a difference. Whenever you see a long career, those players have definitely made a difference. 

Q. What would be Mithali Raj’s legacy, in your eyes?

The longevity is the legacy that she has left behind. Her presence in the dressing room, the runs that she has made. Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami are the names that have been synonymous with the Indian cricket team in the last so many years. It is for the next generation to adapt, to learn, and then carry forward the good work done. Probably make their own path. 

Q If you have to pick one memory with Mithali, what would you pick. Please share with us. 

The chase that we did, Mithali and I together, and we won first Test series abroad in South Africa. That was in 2000-01. That was my second Test as captain, was Mithali’s second Test as vice-captain. She straightaway came to the Test series becoming a VC. Everything was very new to both of us and we went out there and chased down the target. Both of us opened the innings. That was a special memory. That was a special victory for the entire Indian women’s cricket, our first Test series win abroad. It remains special and just feels like it happened the other day. 

Q. Is there anyone in Indian cricket who can carry forward the legacy of Mithali Raj?

 

Cricket has changed. From where we or Mithali started playing. Yes, it is played with same rules. It has become a lot different. How we learnt to play the game. I won’t say that there needs to be somebody who needs to carry forward her legacy. There must be things that the younger players must have learnt and like to imbibe, use those learnings and make their own path. 

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