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Mithali Raj

'Teams need to be encouraged' – Mithali Raj calls for more stories like Thailand's

India news

Mithali Raj, the India veteran who retired from Twenty20 Internationals this month, has said every effort should be made to ensure more stories like Thailand's – they qualified for their maiden ICC Women's T20 World Cup earlier in September– come about in the sport.

In a glorious career, Raj has broken plenty of records in all formats – she is the only female cricketer to cross the 6000 mark in ODIs – and has seen the game change in many ways since she made her debut in 1999. In that time, many new forces have risen in women's cricket, Thailand being the latest after they secured qualification for the big event in Australia next year.

Raj said it was imperative more exposure is given to these sides so that the game as a whole can develop, with the eventual goal being to spread the game to countries where cricket isn't traditionally played. 

People from countries other than the cricket-loving ones should be able to come forward and accept the sport as a profession.

Mithali Raj

"I think the top teams have been doing well, whether it is Australia, England, New Zealand, India or South Afriica," Raj told ICC. "But we need to have more teams participating in the ICC events. Like this year, Thailand is going to play their first ICC event [in Australia next year].

"So teams like that need to be encouraged. We need to give them more exposure. That is something we need to do more to spread women’s cricket around the world. People from countries other than the cricket-loving ones should be able to come forward and accept the sport as a profession. That is something we need to work on."

India will miss Raj's experience at the T20 World Cup in Australia next year – she ended her career as India's top-scorer in the format, with 2364 runs at 37.5, and a high score of 97*. But more than the runs, it was her role in the evolution of the team, from underdogs to a genuine force, that stood out. 

Video cwc19 04 Jul 17
#WWC17 Mithali Raj Feature

Asked to pick the highlight of her T20I career, she cited the 2-1 series win in Australia in 2016 as the "defining moment" for the team. "Winning the T20 series in Australia, beating Australia in 2016, is the highlight," she said.

"Because until then, we ourselves didn’t believe that we are a decent T20 team. And that series win against Australia imbibed a lot of confidence into the team. Since then, we have seen a few girls getting into the WBBL, getting more opportunities, which has opened a lot of gates for domestic players to show a lot of interest in this format."

India reached the semi-finals of the 2018 edition of the T20 World Cup, and Raj earmarked Jemimah Rodrigues, the 19-year-old top-order batter, as the one to take the team forward in the next tournament. Rodrigues scored 132 runs in the three-match T20I series in New Zealand earlier this year, at a strike-rate of 128.16, and Raj said she symbolised the modern approach to batting.

Video cwc19 11 Nov 18
Feature: Jemimah Rodrigues, India

"Jemimah has been doing really well in this format, especially scoring runs on the New Zealand tour," said Raj. "She also had a good record in the WBBL, playing on Australian soil. She is one player you can look forward to in the T20 World Cup.

"The current generation is fearless in terms of results. If they feel like they should take a stand or go ahead, they go ahead irrespective of what the situation is. That definitely helps in your approach as a confident player." 

I have a set goal of playing the 2021 World Cup.

Mithali Raj

Raj is the only woman to have played 200 one-day internationals, and with her eyes locked on the 2021 World Cup, the emphasis is on keeping herself fit. "I have a set goal of playing the 2021 World Cup," she said.

"I am looking forward to working a lot on my fitness, because that is going to be one of the main criteria for me to extend my career. At the same time, [I want to] work on my skills to keep myself up-to-date to the current international standards in women’s cricket."