'She'll work as hard for every run as you'd expect a debutant to'

Mithali Raj Getty Images

Mithali Raj is carving out a formidable legacy as a batsman and leader in women's cricket. As she went past Charlotte Edwards to become the highest run-getter in women's ODIs, ESPNcricinfo caught up with her team-mates, mentors and friends who have up close seen her evolve into a world-class batsman.

Nooshin Al Khadeer, former India team-mate and Raj's best friend
I wouldn't have played international cricket if I hadn't undergone the regime she went through as a teenager. When I moved to Hyderabad for inter-zonal camps, I'd stay at her house. I'd watch her start her day at 4.30am and finish at 8pm. I always felt if I could put in half the effort she put in, I could play for India. I started following that and within a year and a half, I was in the India camp.

Her homework, not just on the field but off it too, sets her apart. When we used to tour abroad, she knew getting Indian curries wouldn't be possible. So she'd change her diet to boiled vegetables and salt-less food a month prior to the tour just to get used to it. That was her level of preparedness.

But as serious as she is on the field, she is that much of a prankster off it. There are plenty of stories and moments we've shared together. I don't think a book would be enough to write them all. I remember two incidents: in 2005, she pranked Jhulan Goswami into an interview for 45 minutes, saying it would be shown on BBC. Jhulan called her parents and asked them to tune in to the channel, only to realise later that it was Mithali. Jhulan was fuming.

There's one incident from 2002 which I remember like yesterday. We were driving towards Taunton for a one-off Test against England after a horrendous ODI series. Marcus Trescothick had made a double-ton, and the news was splashed in the papers. I casually told her, "You're going to do it too." I didn't play that Test, but I remember scoring off the book. There was no scoreboard for some reason, so I was her point of contact. I would often make hand signals to her about her score and how she was going. So once she got the double-ton, she raised the bat to me and gestured how she had achieved what we spoke about.

Even before the South Africa game [in this World Cup], she called me and was talking about technique and batting. I had to interrupt at times and remind her to talk about something else. That is how intense she is about cricket. I reminded her, "Just 34 to go." She was very chilled out about it for a change. The achievement is phenomenal. To have Indians lead the runs and wickets tally is a proud moment for all of us. For all the sacrifices she's made, this is a sweet reward. There can't be a sweeter reward now than finishing off with a World Cup win. I see them at least qualifying for the final from here.

VR Vanitha, India team-mate
Her calmness helps her decision-making. Even when things go out of hand, she retains her calmness and spontaneity in her captaincy. Though there is a lot of pressure on her, it barely shows on the outside. During the Test in England in 2014, the first time we were playing one after eight years, eight or nine of our girls were making their Test debuts. Not many of us were aware of the pressure she was under. Only when we were having a chat in the dressing room, we could sense it. She was very restless and was pacing up and down. But the minute she walked into the field, I couldn't believe it was the Mithali Raj I saw five minutes earlier.

The calmness she exuded even while walking up to the crease was unbelievable. And much of it has had to do with books, you know. They have been her constant companions. Although it is only now that people have noticed, it's pretty much a routine for her.

She's in a more comfortable space, more at peace when she's out there in the centre and that's what she loves and enjoys the most. She's very calculated with constructing an innings and rotating the strike. When she's batting, she doesn't talk much with her partner, but through her body language and strokeplay she takes a lot of pressure off the other batter.

She's been my role model, just like hundreds of thousands of other female cricketers, and even for many men's cricketers too. If I am playing today, a major part of it is because of her. From a fan girl to team-mate and friend, I have always looked up to her. As for records, she doesn't dwell on them for long. After she got the Padma Shri award, I remember asking her how it felt. Her reply was, "Yeah, it's nice. My mom is more excited than I am." That attitude reflects in her hunger to keep scoring runs, match after match. She doesn't like to live in the past.

Mamatha Maben, former India captain
I first captained her at Air India and then with the Indian team. She was the kind of player you could have complete confidence in. In 2003-04, New Zealand, the world champions then, were in India for a series. In our team meeting before the series, not one player had the confidence we could beat them. Everyone expected to be whitewashed. But the way Mithali finished off games in the series helped us "upset" them. We won 4-1. After the series, Haidee Tiffen came to our dressing room and said they only factored in two players in their team meetings: Mithali Raj and Neetu David. That was high praise.

I've had a bird's eye view of her routines. I used to stay at Mithali's house while playing league cricket in Hyderabad. Her family was totally into cricket. In fact it was the only point of discussion at home. It was quite a surprise for me because my parents hardly knew a thing about the game. In the evenings, we used to hang out and have parties. Mithali used to come in for no more than 20 minutes because she had a set schedule. Even today, after all these years, her father is still her biggest critic and coach. I'm sure her parents are proud of this record. This is a culmination of their dream.

Karen Rolton, former Australia captain
Coming up against Mithali was always a challenge. Whenever we played against her, our team meetings always revolved around cutting off her scoring areas and frustrating her to go against her game. We weren't always successful, but it's fair to say we spent plenty of time plotting and planning against her. With her, you knew chances would be rare. We had to be on our toes all the time else she'd make you pay. It's not a surprise that she's achieved this. She's an example of what pure quality can get you. Her longevity in the game is a testament of her commitment.

Priyanka Roy, former India and Railways team-mate
As a senior batsman, she's always willing to share her knowledge of opponents and foreign conditions with her team-mates who may be new to the side or, yet to tour that country. That experience is invaluable to any team. I played for Railways for eight-nine years before playing for Bengal - commitment to the game is something we learnt from her, both as an opponent and a team-mate. Whether she's playing for India or Railways or Central Zone, the eagerness has been the same. I don't think I've ever seen her getting complacent. She'll work as hard for every run as you'd expect a debutant to. I have enjoyed watching the contest between her and Jhul di [Jhulan Goswami] as well, more so given both of them are legends.