There was a pride in performance, but no recognition. People knew her name, but won’t recognize her. That was Mithali Raj, Indian women’s cricket team captain, in her own words. A mere six months ago these were the confessions of one of women’s cricket’s most successful batswomen in an exclusive interview with Insidesport.co.
She was a World Cup finalist then, too. She was an extremely successful cricketer then, too, with an impeccable international record of 18 years.
Then comes the ICC 2017 Women’s World Cup. Well marketed, and every single game broadcast live on India’s glorious journey to the finals.
Live broadcast and marketing turned out to be the clincher. The stardom has arrived. After landing on Indian shores the journey home for the captain and her teammates was a long, but cherished one. Mithali now confesses that it took her two and a half months to get time to open her luggage after returning from London, where she had led the Indian girls in the World Cup final at the Lord’s.
But she is enjoying this phase, which is the result of nearly two decades, unnoticed achievements.
Today, an icon with a brand value Mithali is a professional sportsperson looking for a new manager or management firm to take care of her commercial interests. Incidentally, her previous commercial tie-up, which had fetched her precious little in spite of her remarkable journey, runs only till October 2017.
Mithali looks forward to a changed association to capitalize on a changed scenario. The gains post World Cup have been unprecedented for her. There are laurels, rewards and awards.
The talented Hyderabad girl is enjoying the status each women cricket had waited for long, really long. “Women’s cricket is being discussed along with men’s cricket. People have started following stats on women’s cricket. How many runs, how many hundreds a women cricket has scored. What has been the career of a particular player. Now even young boys talk about women’s cricket. Otherwise, earlier only men’s cricket was discussed. I am enjoying this phase,” Mithali said at an ICC event in the Capital on Monday.
ICC World Cup was the game changer as Indian girls dynamic show on the ground received the much-needed boost from International Cricket Council’s unprecedented initiatives. “I have seen that ICC made sure that this Women’s World Cup in England was not only reaching the drawing rooms, but it was actually being spoon-fed to everyone to everyone to make headlines in the media. Indian team’s performance contributed immensely to this. Social media was on fire during the World Cup. Every day you will have some kind of article coming up. Then people’s response on twitter has grown. Even my own followers have grown during the World Cup,” she adds with a great sense of pride as to how the life changed in a span of just one tournament.
The new-found status has the potential to play a catalyst for women’s cricket in the country. “It is good to see that a lot of young girls have also watched the (World Cup) matches. When I started, I was the only girl in an exclusive boys’ academy. Today I feel a number of young girls taking to the sport and they want to be the next Harmanpreets, Jhulans (Goswami) and Smritis (Mandhana). Earlier, it would be that they wanted to be only next Sachin Tendulkar. Now these young girls have role models in women’s cricket. That’s something I am very happy about in the current scenario,” adds Mithali.
“I could never see this revolutionary change coming. We (Mithali and Anjum Chopra) were the part of the 2005 World Cup. When we came back after playing the final, we had match winners in every game, but we did not have the kind of acknowledgement of our efforts. It was the same stage (World Cup), the same result (playing the final), but the different that was made was because of the broadcast of the matches, the social media. Today, these girls are household names.”
As she enjoys this new dawn in women’s cricket, a charged up veteran is not going to hang her bat soon. An international career that started in 1999, is gunning for the pride of donning India colors at the next Women’s World Cup in 2021.