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From managing collapses to sealing trophies - Mithali Raj's top T20I hits

As Raj bids goodbye to T20I cricket, we take a look at her five best innings in the format

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
ESPNcricinfo/Annesha Ghosh

ESPNcricinfo/Annesha Ghosh

Mithali Raj, India's most-capped player in women's cricket, has announced her T20I retirement to "ready herself" for the 2021 ODI World Cup, by when she will be nearly 38. Her T20I career will be remembered for various reasons - from leading India out in their first T20I, against England in 2006, to the controversy in the middle of the last World T20, when she said she was unfairly excluded from the XI in the semi-final in which India collapsed against England. We look at her five most memorable innings in the format at the end of a T20I career that began 13 years ago.
At a time when T20Is had just started becoming popular and the IPL was merely a season old, Raj brought India close to chasing down a stiff target of 143 with an unbeaten half-century. She came in at 11 for 2 in the third over and steered the chase after the fall of opener Sulakshana Naik. With India still needing 86 runs from 56 balls at that point, Raj took the game to the last over, with Jhulan Goswami for company at No. 6. With six needed off the last ball to tie the game, Raj hit a four to reach her maiden T20I fifty off 45 balls, but that wasn't enough.
In the final of the Asia Cup 2016, India opted to bat under Harmanpreet Kaur. No other batsman in the top five reached double digits, and Raj, who opened, dominated all the partnerships she featured in, maintaining an innings run rate well over five until Harmanpreet fell for 5 in the 17th over with the score at 89. With Goswami for company towards the end, Raj ensured India scored an impressive 42 runs in the last five overs and finished on an unbeaten 73 off 65 balls, studded with seven fours and a six.
India's bowlers then defended their total of 121 for 5. Raj was named the Player of the Match and the Player of the Series as India sealed their sixth Asia Cup title in as many editions.
Raj began the next edition of the Asia Cup, in Malaysia in 2018, from where she had left off in 2016. Harmanpreet opted to bat again, and this time Raj got more support from her line-up as she smashed a half-century off 39 balls after being on 18 off 23 at one point. She upped her scoring rate further with Harmanpreet and Deepti Sharma at the other end as India hammered 40 runs in the last four overs to post 169 for 3. Raj was on 92 with two overs to go but couldn't find the boundary and ended on a career-best 97 not out off 69 balls.
In response, Malaysia were bundled out for only 27 and lost by a massive 142-run margin.
Raj has played some of her finest innings as an opener and this one came at that position against one of the top sides in the 2014 Women's World T20 when the rest of the Indian batsmen couldn't get going at all.
After opting to bat as captain, she saw her team reduced to 31 for 5 with the wickets of Smriti Mandhana (1), Latika Kumari (2), Shikha Pandey (2), Karu Jain (0) and Harmanpreet (0). Raj, however, scored briskly throughout as her half-century took India close to 100. With the help of eight fours, her 57 runs at more than a run a ball made up for 60% of India's total as no other batsman scored more than 11.
Playing a T20I after more than a year, Raj began India's tour of South Africa with an unbeaten half-century to set up a 1-0 lead and carried her form into the second game, where she played another match-winning knock. Chasing 143, openers Raj and Mandhana dominated the hosts with a century partnership that lasted nearly 15 overs. Mandhana was much quicker initially and got to her fifty first, but Raj too picked up her strike rate and sealed the chase with a four off Shabnim Ismail off the first ball of the final over.
A week later, Raj smashed another fifty - 62 off 50 - to help India post 166 for 4 for a 54-run win to take the series 3-1. Raj was named the Player of the Match and the Series once again.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo