'This is the last chance' - Mithali Raj wants one more crack at the World Cup in 2021
She is 36, and she recently gave up T20I cricket. But Mithali Raj is far from done with top-flight cricket, and wants a "last chance" of winning the top prize in ODI cricket, a trophy she has twice led India to within one win of.
India reached the final of the 50-over World Cup in 2005 and in 2017, both times with Raj as captain. She is still the captain of the ODI team, and is motivated enough to play - and try to win - the 2021 edition.
"Something that has motivated me to think about and have a goal of 2021 is the World Cup. Twice India has been to the final and we could not cross that line," she told Mumbai Mirror on the sidelines of a promotional event in Mumbai on Thursday. "This is the last chance I would have. I wanted to give myself another go at the World Cup and win the title that has eluded the Indian team and me for a couple of times."
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Raj is the leading run-scorer in women's ODIs, with 6720 runs at an average of 51.29, followed by former England captain Charlotte Edwards (5992 runs at 38.16), with West Indies' Stafanie Taylor (4561 runs) at fifth place and the closest to Raj among active players. Raj has been a star performer at World Cups too, with an average of 54.23 from 31 games across five tournaments.
She started playing international cricket in 1999 at just 16 years of age. Raj said she would have benefitted more if the scheduling then was as it is now.
"More than the [T20] leagues, what I have felt is that if we had more ratio of international series back then, things would have been much, much better. Because we would not have struggled to again develop momentum for a series," she said. "It was a very challenging phase for any cricketer. If you had a good five-match one-day series, the next series would be like eight months [later]. So again you are going back and restarting your momentum. By that time the series is over.
"Whereas now you have back-to-back series so any player who is in good form can continue it. Any player who is struggling for form also knows that there is another series they can get."
Raj was part of one of the most high-profile bust-ups in Indian women's cricket - then team coach Ramesh Powar the other - last year, a war of words that made headlines for weeks. The change in the way women's cricket in India has received media attention over the last couple of decades is also something Raj has experienced closely.
"See I have come from a generation where we did not have much of media coverage, to a time when we are scrutinised for everything, whatever we say or do. Initially it took a while to adjust. But I have come to realise that it is part of the sport now," she said. "It is important that women's sport comes to a point where people follow it, but this is the other side of it.
"It cannot be all good. There will be criticism. There will be people who will not like it. But at the end of the day, if you are very clear as to what your priority is, it gives clarity in your mind."