Records are meant to be broken. Some are broken in matter of weeks or days, some take years or decades while others take a century or even a lifetime. Then there are records that are instilled in people's minds forever such as the number of centuries Sachin Tendulkar has scored in international cricket or the number of wickets Muttiah Muralitharan had taken over his career. These are numbers that are constantly on the horizon and constantly get the recognition of the public, fans and the broadcasters.
Then there are records that seem to be transparent, such as the one Mithali Raj broke overnight. Becoming the leading ODI run-scorer in the women's cricket is a phenomenal achievement. Raj is the only batswoman to cross the 6,000-run mark. She wiped England's Charlotte Edwards aggregate of 5,992 in 16 less innings, and in the process also brought up her 49th ODI fifty, a record Raj already owns.
Raj's deeds deserve more accolades and should be on front pages of newspapers in a cricket mad nation. They are equivalent in value as the Tendulkar and the Muralitharan feats. They too have taken an eternity to break and a lifetime of commitment and dedication.
Before the commencement of the Women's World Cup, not many would have known how close Raj was to breaking the world record. But the minute she deflected the ball for a quick single to top the run-charts in ODI cricket against Australia at the County Ground, Bristol, she finally started to get the recognition she deserves.
From current cricketers like Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane to world record holder himself, Tendulkar took to social media to congratulate Raj on her stunning record. In a country obsessed with men's cricket, she has shown the way to become a superstar.
Congratulations, @M_Raj03! Becoming the highest run scorer in Women's ODIs is a huge achievement. Also, superb knock today!
— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) July 12, 2017
It is a testament to a girl that gave up on her passion of Bharatnatyam (a pre-eminent Indian classical dance form) at the age of 10 and realised her priority had to be cricket. It was a difficult decision to make nearly two decades ago considering women's cricket was just an amateur sport.
Her methodical approach and barrage of practice sessions during teenage years ensured Raj was quick to rise through the ranks. She made her debut for India at the age of 16 and from that moment on she seemed destined to greatness.
She created a world record in her debut innings itself, an achievement that continually goes under the radar. While everyone seems to know that Shahid Afridi was the youngest centurion in ODI cricket, the fact that Raj scored her maiden ton even at younger age than the 'Boom Boom' man from Pakistan, showed her immense talent. It's hard to believe but Raj was only 16 years and 205 days old when she stroked a masterful ton on that gloomy afternoon at Milton Keynes ground in England.
From that point on, Raj has been the golden girl of Indian cricket or known as the ‘Sachin Tendulkar of women's cricket’. For close to two decades she too carried the expectations of the nation and managed to produce the goods. It is great shame that Indian cricket failed to produce a similar star to bat alongside Raj. It might have resulted in India winning more trophies and matches because there was only so much Raj could do alone.
After all cricket is a team sport and had the women’s game turned professional earlier, then we may have seen Raj taken her game to yet another level. She has been the pioneer and carved a niche for herself.
Her unbeaten knock of 91 in the World Cup semi-final match in 2005 motivated many of her current team-mates to take up the game. She has inspired the female cricketing fraternity and her astonishing love for scoring runs is probably unmatchable.
When she scored 71 in the opening game of the World Cup, she became the first women to score seven consecutive fifties. She already has more unbeaten knocks in the ODI cricket than any other player. She is only one of six batswomen to register a double-century in Tests. The statistics keep flowing when the name ‘Mitali Raj’ is discussed.
Importantly, she has an aura about her and the emerging female cricketers see an idol in her. Young girls should have posters of Raj in their rooms. By becoming the highest run-scorer in women's ODI cricket, she has now reached the pinnacle of her game.
But perhaps her best shot of the career has been the verbal volley that came at the opening press conference at the World Cup. When asked who her favourite male cricketer was, her response: “Do you ask the male cricketers that same question?” So perhaps when a girl is asked, "Who has scored the most runs for India in ODIs?" The answer should be Mitali Raj.
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