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On This Day: Debutant Mithali Raj Became the Youngest to Score a Century in ODI

Coach Jyoti Prasad who used to be a friend of Dorai Raj told him that her daughter might as well learn cricket. Dorai Raj’s ‘lazy’ daughter was taken to her brother’s cricket coaching classes, to become fit. After Prasad’s suggestion, Dorai Raj’s daughter faced few balls at the net, and Prasad was convinced about her potential as a cricketer. Later, he admitted her daughter to Keynes cricket club where Mithali Ra, thrived under Sampat Kumar a well-respected coach.

It was the beginning of a fairy tale. Mithali, who didn’t have any intention to become a cricketer went on to play all the age group categories when she was less than 15 years old. Mithali was selected for 1997 Indian World Cup Camps, at the age of 15 but the news of her coach Sampat Kumar died of a road accident came as a set back to her. She went to her first coach who gave her the metal stability to attend the Indian camp.

Though Mithali Raj didn’t make it to the final squad, she didn’t have to wait long for her call. 1997 witnessed a characteristics change in Mithali, who from an energetic child turns out to be an introvert. India didn’t play any match further 1997 World Cup though Mithali became the regular face of the Indian camps. She was selected for India’s tour to England & Ireland in 1999.

Prior to that series, she scored 137 runs at an average of 45.66 in Jhansi Rani Tournament in 5 innings. Chasing a total of 129 against the Women Cricket Association of India for South Zone, Raj opened the innings and secured the victory with her unbeaten 58. Prior to India’s first match against Ireland in Milton Keynes, India played a tour match against England A. Batting first, Mithali Raj was sent by the management to open the innings with Anju Jain.

Mithali Raj
Mithali Raj played a crucial knock. Image; Getty Images

Both of them added 52 runs for the first wicket in 11 overs. In 41 minutes, Raj batted, she scored 22 runs in 32 balls before getting out to Winks. India banked on Chandrakanta Aheer’s 73 and Hemalata Kala’s 54 to defeat England A by 113 runs. On 26th June 1999, Mithali Raj along with Reshma Gandhi, Hemalata Kalaa, Rupanjali Shahstri made their debut for India. Winning the toss Indian Skipper Chandrakanta Aheer decided to bat first.

ALSO READ: On This Day: Mithali Raj Marched to New Record in ICC World Cup 2017

Raj completed her half-century in 81 balls while took another 42 balls to achieve the next fifty. The two debutants put up 258 runs for the first wicket in 300 balls. While Raj became the youngest debutant to score an ODI hundred she was supported by Reshma Gandhi (104*). Mithali’s unbeaten 114 in 139 balls was comprised of 12 fours. Later India went on to win the match by 161 runs based on Purnima Rau’s 4/34.

The Journey had started for her since then. In her 21 years long career she created or toppled many more records. With 6888 runs, the highest scorer in ODI cricket, Mithali once again shook the world Cricket when in 2002 she surpassed Belinda Clerk’s highest individual test run while scoring 219 runs. After her debut, India has played 222 matches out of which Mithali has played all except 13 matches.

She was given the role of captaincy at a very young age. Raj who also scored the maximum number of runs as the skipper – 4402 runs, also became the first women cricketer to score 2000 run as well as 3000 ODI runs while chasing. Raj defined the definition of a finisher in her own style. In ODI, she came to bat at number 3 in 52 innings where she scored 2036 runs with an average of 107.15, securing the victory for the team. She proved that one doesn’t need to be a pitch heater to be a finisher.

Mithali Raj
Mithali Raj. Photo: Getty Images

Mithali Raj, who carried the Indian batting for two decades is the only one to have scored a hundred as a teenager and as one who is older than 35 years. Raj,  during the 2017 ICC World Cup made a unique record by making 71 against England. By doing so she became the first women cricketer to have the highest number of consecutive half-centuries in ODI. Her tally of 7 consecutive fifties is two less than Pakistani stalwart Javed Miandad.

ALSO READ: Mithali Raj Resumes Training after Three Months

Raj, who yet to win an ICC World Cup led India to the final of the tournament twice in 2005 and 2017. There were low points of her career but she digs down deep. She travelled by local transport to play domestic matches, without having many facilities. She got the central contract in 2015, a year later she defeated England in Test in their own backyard with 8 debutants.

16 years after she started playing for India that kid got the financial security. Amidst all these scorecards, victories, defeats and heartbreaks the little kid who was reluctant to get out of her bed at one time created a legacy. A legacy that proved cricket is not only a gentleman’s game anymore. A fairy tale which inspires a little girl from the remotest corner of India to see the dream of playing for India one day.

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