Criticism of Mithali Raj’s “slow batting” against Ireland unwarranted
India were put into bat by Ireland in their third match of T20 World Cup – a match that India needed to win to secure a semi-final spot. Captain Harmanpreet decided to send Mithali Raj as the opening batter this time. Mithali scored 51 of 56 balls and India finished on 145 for six in the stipulated 20 overs.
Throughout her innings, the commentators were constantly critical of her efforts – they felt she was too slow. Some even pointed out that if India wants to have a shot at their first world cup title, they should emulate Australia, and kept on telling the viewers how Australia’s top order is way more destructive than India’s.
Mithali clearly was feeling the pressure and did not even raise her bat to celebrate her fifty. She was almost apologetic when her batting partner at the moment, Hemalatha, ran towards her to shake her hand!
But such criticism of India’s most experienced and possibly most dependable batswoman is a tad unfair. A couple of things need to be considered before judging her innings.
First of all, the pitch was quite slow after heavy rains had lashed the ground in the morning. The ball was not coming onto the bat, and even a more attacking batter like Smriti Mandhana was finding it difficult to time the ball. She admitted as much in her interview post-Indian innings. Like Mithali, she too was scoring at only a run-a-ball.
Secondly, the importance of staying in the moment. Somebody needed to ensure that India did not face a collapse. Sometimes, in an effort to go for too much, a team can end up with too little. Mithali’s innings ensured that someone was out there all the time to hold the innings together.
Others could have batted around her. It’s not Mithali’s fault that the big-hitters such as Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy did not contribute as well or as much as they were expected to. But for Mithali’s innings, who knows India might have ended up with a sub-par score!
Mithali chose safety over risk. In such a pressure match, that was the best way to go. However, India should consider opening with other more attacking batswomen, pushing Mithali down the order in matches where India bats first, so that a player of her calibre could rescue India in case of a collapse at the top. But it’s unfair to ask her to open and then expect her to bat like Harmanpreet Kaur!