Indian cricket icon, Mithali Raj, who was also the team's captain in their first-ever T20 International when they beat England at Derby in 2006, called time on her 13-year T20I career on Tuesday. She retired as the leading run-scorer in T20Is for India amassing 2,364 runs in 89 matches at an excellent average of 37.52 including 17 fifties to her name.
In addition, she leaves the international arena as the sixth-highest run scorer ever in T20Is across teams, while also having led India in 32 T20Is, including three World T20s in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
In a chat with Firstpost, Mithali opens up on her T20I career, explains the rationale behind the timing of her retirement, the what-could-have-beens and more.
What were your first thoughts when you to came to a decision to retire from T20Is?
Mithali Raj: I wanted to retire after the World T20 2018 itself, but because of the controversy, I was not in the right space. The controversy lasted for close to three months, so I couldn't give much thought to take this call (retirement) at that time. When we toured New Zealand in January 2019 for T20s I spoke to the coach because he was discussing the plan for the T20 World Cup in 2020. And I thought it was wise for me to let him know my plan, as I wasn't seeing myself playing the T20 World Cup in Australia. It was only appropriate for me to tell him that I was planning to retire after the T20 series in New Zealand.
However, my dad wanted me to retire on home soil which is why I told the coach and chairman of selectors that the home series against England in March would be my last. I conveyed this to them in February during the New Zealand tour. So, the decision was made not considering what happened during the last T20 World Cup, it had nothing to do with it. When it comes to career, I am pretty practical about it. I don't let my emotions affect my decision making. The decision was well thought of and not taken overnight and, contrary to what people speculate, it was nothing to do with any individual.
But you did go on record to say that you were disturbed by the way things had panned out during the WT20 2018. You also said you would take time to get over the whole episode. Are you completely over it now or like a bad dream it reappears once in a while?
I took time to deal with the controversy. Even though I am asked 'why did you announce your retirement now?' and 'why couldn't you announce your retirement after the England series?' The answer is I made the decision in January, but I had to deal with those emotions. I didn't want it to affect my decision and I didn't want to regret or have a bad taste or ill feelings still lingering within me. I wanted to move on, that's the reason I took time and I got that sort of free time only recently.
Immediately after the England series, we had a domestic tournament which was followed by the Women's IPL and then there was a month-long Indian camp. I was pretty much on the move and I wasn't able to give time to settle my emotions in that regard. When I had this one month off, where I spent my time at home with my parents, that is when I started to make peace with things. Now I am in a happy space and have a definite purpose and a goal ahead of myself and I want to work towards it.
How would you like to sum up your T20I career?
I have been a decent T20 player and had a decent career in T20. I had some amazing wins. My T20 career progressed parallel with the team's journey in T20 and to an extent with the overall growth of the game from 2006 to now.
Are you satisfied with what you have achieved in your T20I career or are there any unfulfilled desires?
I don't regret it particularly, but if I could have started opening the batting earlier than when I actually did in 2014, then I would have scored more runs. Otherwise, I think I don't have any regrets. We could have also performed better in the 2016 T20 World Cup that happened in India because I always feel that World Cups are a big platform where you can inspire a lot of people. Especially when you're the hosts, a lot of expectations ride on your shoulders.
Can the T20I series win in Australia in 2016 under your leadership be marked as the highest point of your T20I career?
Yes! As a captain, I think so. The series win in Australia was a game-changer for the team. The series win gave a lot of confidence to the young girls to play in different leagues which subsequently gave rise to the talk of the Women's IPL.
What are the most noticeable changes in T20 cricket from the first T20I that you played in 2006 and the one you played in March this year?
Any new concept takes time for the players to understand and it was the same for us. The first year or two we didn't know how to go about it. T20, in fact, helped improve our game in the One-Day format. You have seen in the 2017 World Cup how we had scored more than 260-270 and even chased down such totals. The T20 format has helped ODI become much stronger. I believe that is one of the main reasons why a lot of people have started following women's cricket because it is no more a game of 200 totals. The game is more interesting and competitive. The noticeable changes are that we get to see more sixes and more power cricket has come into the fold. With T20s being played on a regular basis, it has had a positive impact on cricketers' fitness. It is important to be fit and it has become the topmost criteria to remain fit for any elite cricketer to play at the national level.
What is one thing that you’re most likely to miss from T20I cricket?
Opening the innings for India. I will always miss opening the batting.
Do you see yourself taking on the role of a mentor for young boys and girls coming through the ranks?
I have had the privilege to do so as an active cricketer. I have already been doing that for some time now. It is important to strengthen the team and share experiences with the younger players coming in. Though the current generation has all the resources — be it the technology or the support staff — the experience that senior players share is very different and it also bridges the approachability gap. Young players find it more convenient to come and talk and share any vulnerabilities or any other problems they are facing.
With no more T20I cricket, you will have more time on your hands. What are things you're looking to pursue on the personal front?
T20 cricket did take a lot of my time and with just the One-Dayers I think I can give more time to other aspects of life, like spending time with my parents, who are getting old. Spending time with my friends who have been through thick and thin. Spending more time for my book to get it ready by next year.