An Open Letter To Mithali Raj
As I watched you at the 2013 World Cup, as a mere 13 year old, it lit an unexplainable fire in me. It made me feel as if anything was possible, and over the next few years, it even led me to defy authorities and set up a girls cricket team in my school, the first girls team in more than two decades. Not just me, but throughout your career, you've inspired millions of young girls across the country; and I can't thank you enough for that.
From reading 'Essential Rumi' before going out to bat, to facing the fastest pacers in the world while wearing just a floppy hat, you've redefined Captain Cool.
You stood tall, as the Indian team changed and reshuffled around you. You were the rock, while run chases crumbled and morales dipped. And you were the only beacon of light that women's cricket in India had seen for a long time.
Before this tournament, Indian women's cricket was a one-woman show; and I feel privileged to have been a witness to the Mithali Raj era.
Whenever I see you walking on the field, irrespective of how impossible the run chase may seem, it gives me a sense of comfort. "Alright, now Mithali's here. India still has a chance."
Over the past few years, I've seen comparisons of you to Tendulkar and Dhoni, but none are even in the same league. None of them have had to contend with un-televised matches, almost 20 times less prize money, substandard accommodation, not enough equipment and yet bring their dependable, unselfish self to the field every single time they play for the nation. You are not the female Tendulkar, you are THE Mithali Raj.
You've set the benchmark, for not just Indian women's cricket, but Indian cricket in general.
You've given your blood, sweat and tears for the nation, and quite selfishly, I still want more. But if that selfishness will allow me to see you take the field one more time, if it'll mean that I'll see you ending your career with the acme of sport: lifting the World Cup; then yes, I'm perfectly alright with being selfish. You deserve nothing less.
While I saw male players sledging and cursing on the ground after losses, or even mere setbacks, I saw you, handle both defeat and victory with nothing but grace. As I watched the proceedings in Lords last Sunday, while my heart was breaking 4600 miles away, I could almost feel the calmness you brought to the team.
As you walked from player to player, giving them a hug and a few words of consolation, I could see how much you meant to them. And as you spoke to the media, despite the disappointment I could see in your eyes, you were the epitome of grace.
There was no singling out of blame, no criticising, just the frank honesty that has become your trademark.
My heart sank when I found out that this would be your last World Cup, feverently hoping that you would change your mind. I've waited 17 years to see you winning this trophy, I don't mind waiting for 4 more. Because you don't deserve to go out like this.
There would be no better fitting end to your career than lifting the 2018 World Cup, and I know that you have it in you. You entered with a bang, left an indelible mark in the minds of millions of Indians, and you deserve to go out with a bang too. So: Hey Mithali? Stay Mithali.