Mithali Raj had a troublesome ending to her 2018 thanks to the spat between her and the Indian women’s team coach Romesh Powar. Raj, on the other hand, also became the highest run-getter for the country in T20 Internationals (2283 runs in 85 matches) - more than Rohit Sharma (2237) and Virat Kohli (2167).
The issue cropped up due to Mithali Raj being benched for the all-important semi-final match of the 2018 World T20 against England. India went on to lose the match and was eliminated, while Raj, who had scored match-winning fifties in group matches, was seated.
The 36-year-old Hyderabadi, however, has put all that behind and looks ahead to the challenges in the New Year. In a chat with Times of India, she spoke about her ordeal and what she looks forward to in 2019.
About the coaching fiasco, Mithali said, “Of course, a lot of people are interested in what happened during the World Cup and I would like to sum it all up by saying that it was not a very good experience. Definitely, it was the most difficult phase of my career off the field.”
She added, “I can't change people's perceptions. It is not in my control. But what is in my control is that as long as I am playing, as long as I take the field as a player or as captain of Team India, there will not be any less percentage of commitment for the team or country. I have always played like that and will continue to do so.”
She also shared her views on new coach WV Raman and said, “I am not here to judge him, that's not my job. I am here to get the team together and get them to perform as a unit. He has a lot of experience and if you look at his credentials, he has coached at every level and comes with a lot of expertise. It will only do good for the team.”
About the debate between seniors and juniors, she said, “Right from my debut, I always believed that if someone is picked to play for the country then that player is capable and is in the team purely on ability and not on age or whether they are senior or junior. When 15 of us are picked, all are equal in terms of ability and it's important that each one of us gets the respect that we deserve.”
Mithali also spoke about how will the team gel after the controversy.
She said, “I am not sure how things will be off the field, but as professional cricketers, who have been playing for so many years, each one of us understands what it takes to get the team together on the field and perform. Also, these things are secondary when you have a job on hand to represent the country at the highest level.”
She added, “I don't think there will be any team which has everyone on the same page. It is like a family where everyone has a different perspective. At the end of the day, you figure out a common goal and strive towards it.”
Talking about her scoring rate in T20Is, Mithali said, “I don't intend to justify anything about my scoring rate as there are people who score at a faster rate but are not that consistent. So it works both ways, but people don't see it that way when they are negative about the player. If you see the percentage of matches that India won with me scoring runs it will be a testimony to my abilities. But I am not someone to justify why or what it is. I play the way I think best suits the situation and the way the team requires me to bat.”
Talking about the challenges for the team in New Zealand, Raj said, “The conditions will be a definite challenge as we are touring New Zealand after a decade. Others are touring for the first time. But with the kind of experience all of them - barring two or three youngsters - have, it shouldn't be a problem in adjusting to the conditions. Anyhow we are going there early and that will give us time to adjust and it will be good for the team.”
Mithali Raj also spoke about Test cricket and said, “I would have liked because playing with the red ball and the feel of actual cricket gives a different thrill. Playing for those four/five days and seeing momentum shift from one session to another and how you challenge situations. But if things have to be promoted like have more people watch the games, then a shorter format is always viable.”
When asked about what keeps her going despite the fact that she made her debut in 1999, Mithali replied, “I may not be forthcoming with my expressions and my body language, but when it comes to preparation I am quite aggressive. At this level I always want to be the best and wouldn't want to push on just because there is no one else in the team etc. That drive is still there. I don't like anyone getting me out even in the nets. At the end of the day, I cannot be playing in the 40s because my body wouldn't, but at least I can push it to an extent that I can.”
She also spoke about her calling her time and how her game would be remembered.
She said, “Whenever I call it a day I should be happy and content that I have given my best. It doesn't matter whether the stats support it or the people like me or not; whether my batting is appreciated or not. I started cricket when nobody knew about me. I have lived with my conscience all through my life and when I call it off, I should be proud that I have given it all. When I reach that stage I will call it a day.”