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News

Mithali Raj retires from international cricket

"Perfect time to call curtains on my career as the team is in the capable hands of some very talented young players"

Mithali Raj equaled Belinda Clark's record of captaining most games, New Zealand vs India, Women's World Cup 2022, Hamilton, March 10, 2022

ICC via Getty Images

Mithali Raj has brought the curtain down on her storied career, announcing her decision to "retire from all forms of International Cricket" in a message on Twitter.
Raj, 39, wrote, "I feel now is the perfect time to call curtains on my playing career as the team is in the capable hands of some very talented young players and the future of Indian Cricket is bright."
Though she didn't give any concrete indicators on what her future plans were, she did say that she would stay connected with the game. "Each time I stepped on the field, I gave my very best with the intent to help India win. I will always cherish the opportunity given to me to represent the tricolour," she wrote. "It was an honour to have led the team for so many years. It definitely shaped me as a person & hopefully helped shape Indian Women's Cricket as well.
"This journey may have ended but another one beckons as I'd love to stay involved in the game I love and contribute to the growth of Women's Cricket in India and world over."
It has been one of the most celebrated careers in the game, during which Raj played 12 Tests, 232 ODIs and 89 T20Is, her last appearance for India coming during the 50-over World Cup earlier this year, in a game against South Africa, which India lost by three wickets to be knocked out of the tournament.
Raj, India's captain, scored 68 in 84 balls in that game, her 64th half-century in the format, in which she compiled 7805 runs, including seven centuries, at an average of 50.68. In Tests, she aggregated 699 runs at an average of 43.68 with a century and four half-centuries. And in T20Is, where her appearances had been curtailed since the emergence of the "talented young players" she referred to in her retirement message, Raj scored 2364 runs at an average of 37.52 with 17 half-centuries and a high score of 97*. She, however, remains India's highest run-getter in the format, at No. 7 on the overall list, with current T20I captain and ODI vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur just 45 runs behind.
Her overall tally of 10,868 runs made her the leading run-scorer in women's international cricket, and no batter has scored more than her 7805 in women's ODIs. She was also the first to score seven fifties in a row in women's ODIs, where her tally of 64 is the highest.
Raj, in fact, led India for a large part of her career. In eight of her 12 Tests, she was the captain, from as far back as November 2005 to the other day, when India played Australia in Carrara in September 2021. India won four of those Tests. She also led India to 89 wins in 155 ODIs, and in T20Is, 17 wins in 32 games.
Raj burst on to the national consciousness as a 16-year-old, where on international debut, she scored an unbeaten 114 in an ODI against Ireland at Milton Keynes on June 26, 1999. Her innings at the time gave her the record for the youngest centurion in women's cricket across all formats. It remains an unbroken record in ODI cricket.
That kickstarted a career that reached never-before highs, as she quickly became the lynchpin of the India's batting. Not long after, she led India to the final of the 2005 ODI World Cup, and when she did the same in 2017, Raj became the first Indian captain, male or female, to lead in two ODI World Cup finals. The winner's crown, however, eluded her, as India lost a one-sided final in 2005 to Australia by 98 runs and then, 12 years later, in a much narrower contest to England by nine runs.
Raj's sound batting technique - helped along by outstanding footwork, perhaps a result of her childhood enthusiasm for Bharatanatyam, the classical Indian dance form - and ability to bat for long periods and anchor innings across formats made her an inspiration for the many that have followed. Like Smriti Mandhana.
"The sense of responsibility she [Raj] has shown over these years. There was a phase of ten years when Indian batting used to depend on her," Mandhana told The Cricket Monthly in an interview in March 2019. "The fact that she never cribbed about it, and took on that pressure - that's one thing I'd like to have in my head, because it's hard when you know your wicket is important and that if you lose your wicket, the course of the match might change.
"That is a very difficult space to be in as a batter. But she has been consistent, despite being in that headspace - that's a big task. She's calm and relaxed even if there are, say, two or three dot balls. I used to get a bit panicky earlier, but she has always been calm."
Those same abilities played a big part in Raj hitting her highest Test score of 214, in 2022, and, three years later, an unbeaten 91 in the ODI World Cup semi-final, which she rated at par with that double-century.
A career at the highest level as long as Raj's can't be without controversy, and the biggest of them was the face-off between her and India coach Ramesh Powar during the 2018 T20 World Cup in the Caribbean. Things came to a head during the league phase of the World Cup when Raj was asked to move down the batting order, and hit rock bottom when Raj was left out of India's semi-final against England, a knock-out match they lost. The long, and somewhat sordid, saga of he-said-she-said ended when Powar was not given an extension and, not long after, WV Raman took charge of the team.
There had been murmurs that Raj's career was nearing an end as recently as last month, when she was left out of the three-team Women's T20 Challenge tournament, Deepti Sharma replacing her as captain of the Velocity team. Even prior to the Challenge, during the BCCI's Senior Women's T20 Trophy, Sneh Rana was the captain of the Railways team that won the trophy, while Raj was with the squad but didn't play, and adopted a mentoring role instead.
That might be one of her options going forward too, in her attempts to "contribute to the growth of Women's Cricket in India and the world over", as she said in her retirement statement.