Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
PAK-W in AUS (1)
SA Tri-Series (1)
BPL 2023 (2)
ZIM v WI (1)
Ranji Trophy (1)
WU19 WC (1)
SA v ENG (1)
Super Smash (1)
IND v NZ (1)
One of the greatest careers in the history of cricket - both men's and women's - came to an end on Wednesday. So let's take a trip down memory lane and enjoy the best of Mithali Raj, the stroke-maker, record-breaker and standard-bearer.
Raj started her international career with a bang, scoring an unbeaten 114 on ODI debut, and breaking a 26-year old partnership record as she put on 258 runs for the first wicket with Reshma Gandhi (104*), against Ireland, Raj's and Gandhi's record stood for over nine years.
Under the captaincy of Anjum Chopra, Raj made her Test debut against England in Lucknow. Unlike her ODI debut, Raj had a forgettable first outing here, bagging a duck in the draw.
Raj captained on her T20I debut, as it was India's first game in the format, and scored 28 at No. 3 against England, to help her team to an eight-wicket win.
With a brisk 66 off 72, Raj led her side to a massive 177-run win against Sri Lanka, for India's fourth straight Asia Cup title.
Raj was keen on getting tips from Tendulkar and Dhoni ahead of the 2009 World Cup in Australia.
The India captain urged the BCCI to organise more Tests for the women's team and offer centralised contracts to the players.
Raj watched from the non-striker's end as Shikha Pandey hit the winning runs and India claimed a historic victory in the one-off Test against England at Wormsley. India were playing their first Test in over eight years and Raj led a side with as many as eight debutants.
Raj said she was not expecting the prestigious honour with players like Virat Kohli also in the race. "These awards will really prop up the young girls and players to take up the sport and do much better. With this award probably people will follow women's cricket keenly and will take a note of the international women's calendar," she had said.
Raj was at the helm when India defeated Australia 2-1 in the three-match T20I series in Australia in 2016. India won the first two matches before going down in the third. Their 141-run chase in the first T20I was their then highest successful one.
In an interview to ESPNcricinfo, Raj said since India didn't have a women's IPL, "if the Aussies or England want us in the tournament (WBBL), the BCCI should be positive enough to support us, because it will benefit them and help the players get experience."
Raj bagged a few more honours during the Quadrangular series involving South Africa, Ireland and Zimbabwe. She equalled the record for most consecutive half-centuries in women's ODIs - and later broke it at the subsequent World Cup - and led India in her 100th ODI as captain. She went on to break that record too, ending with 155.
The 2017 World Cup had not even begun, and Raj had hit a boundary. When asked at the opening dinner and media roundtable event before the tournament who her favourite men's cricketer was from India and Pakistan - four days after the Champions Trophy final - Raj said: "Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is? "I have always been asked who's your favourite cricketer but you should ask them who their favourite female cricketer is."
Overtakes the legendary Charlotte Edwards as the top-scorer in women's ODIs. She went past the England batter in 16 fewer innings and her average at the time - 51.52 - was much better than Edwards' 38.16.
India fell just 10 short of their target against England in the historic World Cup final at Lord's. But they created unprecedented buzz for women's cricket in India and Raj said the time is right for a women's IPL.
Raj superseded Meg Lanning as the No. 1 ODI batter in the ICC rankings. Four months later, Lanning's team-mate, Ellyse Perry, displaced Raj at the top.
Player of the Match and Series in T20Is, Raj's 62 in the fifth T20I powered India to their first away-series double, in South Africa, by winning the ODIs 2-1 and T20Is 3-1.
The women's award was only it its fourth year, and Raj was the first Indian to win it.
The captain broke the record for most 50-plus scores in women's ODIs to help India clinch the series 2-1 against world champions England at home.
A controversy then hit as Raj's manager lashed out at Harmanpreet on Twitter. The Committee of Administrators (CoA) - a Supreme Court appointed body that was overseeing the BCCI at the time - asked for Raj's fitness logs from the tournament, and sought an explanation from two senior board officials. CoA member Diana Edulji later clarified the committee wouldn't interfere in selection matters, and Raj then shot an email to the BCCI top brass, saying Edulji and coach Powar had left her "deflated and depressed" with their actions during the T20 World Cup. She also called her exclusion from the semi-final "baffling and hurtful." A day later, Powar wrote in his official report to the BCCI that Raj had threatened to quit if she was not allowed to open. Powar said Raj should stop "blackmailing and pressurising" coaches.
Only a few months after the exclusion in the World Cup, Raj was left out of the XI in a bilateral game too, in New Zealand. After the game, Harmanpreet said Raj's exclusion was only down to giving the younger players more game time.
Raj called for age-group world tournaments in women's cricket to make it a bridge between domestic cricket and the big stage. "It will be important because every country is looking forward to getting more girls to play the sport."
Raj retired from T20Is, in a bid to be at her best at the upcoming ODI World Cup. She led India in 32 T20Is, including three World Cups, in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Raj is still India's highest scorer in T20Is with a tally of 2364, followed closely by Harmanpreet at 2319.
Raj openly said the BCCI shouldn't "wait forever" to organise the women's IPL, and hoped the inaugural tournament is held in 2021, which eventually did not happen.
The captain in two formats, Raj said that her players were grappling with "anxiety" and a lack of "purpose" as the Covid-19 pandemic paused a lot of things in India for a while. Though India finished runners-up in the 2020 T20 World Cup in early March, it took over a year for them to play another international fixture, against South Africa at home.
Raj became the second batter overall and the first Indian to score 10,000 runs in women's international cricket. She went past the mark during her knock of 36 against South Africa during the home series in Lucknow. Edwards was the first woman to go past 10,000 runs.
Raj said she wanted the 2022 ODI World Cup in New Zealand to be her "swansong."
The Test and ODI captain clarified that she and Ramesh Powar, who returned as the Indian head coach, had "moved on" from the bitter spat between them in the aftermath of India' semi-final exit from the 2018 T20 World Cup. "We can't be living in the past."
Raj went past Edwards' tally of 10,273 runs to be crowned the leading scorer in women's internationals. She also finished as the leading scorer in women's ODIs.
After scoring an unbeaten 75 to power India in a chase of 220 against England in Worcester, Raj reacted to criticism about her strike rate by saying, "I do read the criticism about my strike rate but as I've said earlier also, I don't seek validation from people."
Raj slipped down two places and lost her No. 1 spot among ODI batters to Lizelle Lee, while also being overtaken by Alyssa Healy. Raj had been on top of the rankings for just under three months. Overall, she became the No. 1 batter in ODIs as many as eight times.
Raj also led India side in their maiden day-night, pink-ball Test against Australia in Canberra. Raj scored 30 in her only innings as the game ended in a draw on the fourth and final day.
At a time when there were a lot of questions being asked about her and the team's strike rate, boundary rates and dot-ball percentage, Raj said, "So, as for me, I believe that cricket is a game played on situations on the ground. And yes, it is important that we keep that in mind that we need to have a healthy strike rate
Only days after what eventually turned out to be her last international game, Raj moved up the ICC's ODI rankings to sixth spot after her knock of 68 against South Africa.
Two months after the conclusion of the ODI World Cup - the sixth of her career - Raj, 39, retired from all forms of international cricket.
"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," she posted on social media, and added that "another" journey beckons to stay involved in the game but didn't reveal anything more.
She played 12 Tests, 232 ODIs and 89 T20Is spread across three decades from 1999 to 2022.