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Mithali Raj's heroic run comes up short

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#PoliteEnquiries: Should Mithali Raj get a Bollywood biopic? (4:55)

Jarrod Kimber and Melinda Farrell answer your questions after the conclusion of the 2017 Women's World Cup. (4:55)

There is no way to explain Mithali Raj at the crease. She's grace. She's grit. She's the reason eyes were invented. Time stands still, not to let her play her shot perfectly, which she will, but best we get to enjoy every single last millisecond of it. Lord's was probably built in the hope that one day she would turn up to honour it. She's scored more one-day runs than any woman alive.

And now all she has to do is get to the other end.

Punam Raut drops the ball on the leg side and calls for a single to her hero. This single is nothing special, it's not important in a game situation as India are on top, Raut is not struggling, and there is no huge reason to get Raj back on strike.

It shouldn't matter, but in the end, it does.

**

In 1973 the Women's Cricket Association of India was formed. When India made the 2005 World Cup final they were still playing under that body and not the BCCI.

It wasn't until 1976 that India played their first Test, a series against West Indies, where they won a Test after a few draws. From 1977 until 1986, they played in two Test series. They won their second Test in 2002.

India did not play in the first World Cup in 1973, but they hosted the second in 1978. They won their first game in the following World Cup when they defeated a team called International XI (a team made up of the best players who weren't picked for their nations). In 1988 they didn't play again.

It is not a good history. It's the history of an unloved child, occasionally being let out of the basement, trying to please, and then disappearing again for years at a time. India has regularly been called a country obsessed with cricket, but almost exclusively that cricket had to be played with the correct chromosomes.

Mithali Raj is a great player who has played 10 Tests.

**

India made the 2005 World Cup final, primarily because Raj made 91* in the semi-final as India made 204. A few days later the final was played, India lost, but alongside Raj was Jhulan Goswami who took one wicket.

These two women have been together for a very long time; they are Indian cricket. Or as Raj puts it: "She's a player India should celebrate".

Goswami only went for nine runs off her first five overs; she was good, frugal, but not as damaging as she had been at other times this tournament. When she was brought back on for her second spell England were 133 for 3, Nat Sciver and Sarah Taylor were well on top and if India were going to win they needed wickets. Goswami's first over back had a ball that went for three wides, it was a terrible ball and a keeping error. India looked gone.

In the follow up over there was little pressure again, Goswami couldn't keep the ball straight, and fired one down the leg side, there was a slight appeal and a long pause. The umpire seemingly waiting for the right moment to call a wide, then he gave Sarah Taylor caught behind. Fran Wilson didn't make it past her first ball. Two wickets in two balls was only stopped by a Katherine Brunt forward defence then Raj made Goswami change ends.

It was complete and utter madness, right up until the moment Goswami hit Sciver's front pad and got her third wicket for two runs in her last ten balls. Goswami could have bowled from the moon in this mood. This was her last World Cup, her last chance, she didn't care about ends, she cared about winning, and after her spell, India never looked like winning more.

**

India had never chased more than 200 in a World Cup game. But the list of things that India haven't done in women's cricket is long. Until their last match, India had never had a woman pick up the continent of Australia and shake it until all the bowlers went crazy like Harmanpreet Kaur did. Until the first match, India had never had an opener burn up the game like they were made of fire as Smriti Mandhana did. To win, this was going to have to be a tournament of firsts.

As Raj put it: "After losing the warm-up games no one thought we could make the semis. After losing to South Africa and Australia, no one thought we would make the final." No one has ever thought much of this India team.

When they lost to Australia she was angry that yet again she had to do it all, and if she didn't, no one did. This was the tournament where four non-Mithalis went beyond 78 runs, and in that game, Raut had made a hundred. But the runs always came from one or two, and almost always with Raj as the second highest scorer or platform setter. She had done that her entire career and gotten nowhere. This time they had to rise as a team.

At two wickets down, with Raj out, India are never more fragile. But that wasn't how it went. Raut took England on; she hit Anya Shrubsole back over her head for a four and six. She heaved Sciver over midwicket straight away. She worked the spinners over. And at the other end was Harmanpreet who, when it comes to being a menacing figure that casts a shadow, might as well by a villain from a 1930s German horror film. After every ball bowled the English team had to stop reflexively checking which part of midwicket it had cleared.

This was the partnership of Raj's dreams, the one she wasn't in, that was scoring well, hitting big shots, and in control at Lord's. And even when it finished, with Harmanpreet hitting the ball out to a sweeper, India had the game, two players had passed 50, if one more did, India would win the World Cup.

**

India needed 38 runs with seven wickets in hand. You do not need Mithali Raj to win the game from there, just quality batting and calmness. The fourth wicket was barely a big deal, the fifth an annoyance, the sixth was a problem, and the seventh, that hurt.

In the 2005 final, Goswami made 18 runs. Half of them, a quarter even, would be so crucial now. Goswami faced one ball from Shrubsole. She made 18 less than the last final. And the TV showed Goswami going out, and then Raj sitting and staring. It was over 30 overs since Raj had been out and she still had her pads on. Sitting, staring as Shrubsole took wicket after wicket, as India went from favourites to the underdog, as Lord's went from impartial to crazy final, and as India's tail went from yet to bat to dismissed.

She had kept Indian cricket together with a forward defence for generations, and now the one time it needed her the most, she couldn't help them. The teenagers who grew up watching her, the 20-year-olds that played completely under her wing, and the 30-year-old who fought with her, none of them. They all wanted to, they wanted it for them and for India, but to be the one who stepped up for Raj, what an honour.

They all tried as hard as they could, they all failed.

**

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.

It was the team that just needed to help with the last foot, and they almost did. No Indian team has ever come further, they might have changed the way the game is seen in their country, but they will always remember the time they came up short.

"The girls are sad because they gave it all in the tournament. These girls have really set the platform in the current generations for the girls and they should be really proud of themselves for doing that."

Raj is sad because she never won a World Cup. Raj really set the platform in the current generations for the girls and she should be really proud of herself for doing that.