The zen of Mithali Raj

In a Women’s World Cup final marked by more ‘clutch moments’ and ‘turning points’ than you can count, there was for me one moment that defined this Indian team and its leader.

The last wicket had fallen, the cup was England’s and Heather Knight’s mates were celebrating. Off in one corner of the field, the Indian team milled around, with drooping heads and tear-blind eyes. And in the thick of it all, captain Mithali Raj walked from player to player, giving each a hug, a few words of solace; on occasion, her hand reached up to wipe away the tears.

As she walked over to the next player, you saw the eyes of the player she had just left following her, fixed on her as you would on the light of a candle in a dark and dismal world. In her actions was a sign of how much she felt for her players, girls who she had inspired when they were mere toddlers, and shepherded into the big leagues and, on this day, onto the biggest stage the game has to offer. And in their eyes you saw just what Raj meant to every single one of them. Defeat was their lot, but they were finding it bearable, just, because Raj was there with them.

And then, with the same imperturbable calm, Raj walked over to the presentation area for her post match press conference. With her smile in place, she spoke of how well the opposition had fought and how they had deserved to win, she spoke of her disappointment at the result but immediately leavened it with fulsome praise of her mates, calling them the lodestars for the next generation of Indian talent. With no change of expression, she said she hoped to be able to play for a year or two more, but added that this was her last World Cup.

If at any time she felt the hurt, if at any time the most prolific batsman in the women’s game felt the pain of being unable to add the ultimate accolade to her impressive collection of laurels, it never showed. On this day, on this stage, she was careful to never reveal, by word or gesture, her own disappointment. Her wards, she must have figured, were feeling bad enough without being reminded of her own angst.

And thus, with that zen-like calm, she exited a stage she had adorned for 18 years. And in the manner of her exit she taught one last lesson: that sport, when you come right down to it, is not just about skill and fitness; finally, and at its best, it is about grace, about being able to “treat those two impostors just the same”. And thus, in the manner of her leaving, she left Indian cricket, and the game itself, just that little bit richer. And poorer.

Jarrod Kimber, arguably the freshest, feistiest voice in cricket writing today, sums up what Raj has accomplished, and against what odds, in this lovely example of writing to tight deadline.

Mithali Raj ran for 18 years, all around the world, for her women, for her India, and she ended up a foot short. Some say she should have dived for the crease, thrown herself, but she had already thrown every part of her into cricket all her life.

Here, read.

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4 thoughts on “The zen of Mithali Raj

  1. Lovely post and mostly agree with what you say. I just have a question. Why cannot the BCCI, or whoever it is that decides, convince Raj and Goswami to stay on in the team, and train the girls for the next world cup. If Sachin can play at 38, why not the girls ? The team has 19 year olds playing with a maturity belying their years. I am not a cricket fanatic like 50% of my family, but these girls are magic, and I so look forward to the next world cup .

    • I’d imagine it is the players’ call to make — and players are aware of when their bodies are no longer up to it. That said, agree with the point about Raj and Goswami being roped in to train gen next.

  2. Nicely put, Prem.
    Didn’t had the heart to watch the rest of it, as soon as the catch was taken.
    I am 47 years old, and have been thru lot.. both personal and not so personal. Yet, I was depressed for the next 10 hrs.. till I went to bed to sleep for the night.
    Harsh, though, it may sound, but the fact that we lost because of our mistakes/nerves actually made it easier for me to accept the defeat. God forbid, if something like 1992 world cup semifinal had happened to our girls… I would have to take solace in drinking! That too when I have quit it for good for last 5+ years.

    • 🙂 I’ll just point out that there is a difference between following sports, and allowing it to get to you. I did feel the same regret as you, but I keep in mind something I read once: Never peg your happiness to the deeds of others. I felt the loss as keenly, but then I was also aware that the mistakes they made, which led to their loss, owed much to the lack of facilities and support, so the fault lay in our expecting much while giving little or nothing.

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