LIFESTYLE

This Week Will Settle It: Mithali Raj Is The GOAT

Mithali Raj is a great – let's keep gender out of it – and she deserves all the respect that comes with that.

04/07/2017 11:29 AM IST | Updated 04/07/2017 11:30 AM IST
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Mithali Raj of India poses ahead of the ICC Women's World Cup 2009 at the Menzies Hotel on March 5, 2009 in Sydney, Australia.

Cricket debates its greatest with all the frequency of a hypochondriac checking his temperature and the feverish alacrity of said hypochondriac when he reads a 100. Everybody's right, and nobody is.

Everybody would, however, be right that India's no-nonsense captain has, over the past 18 years, established her place in the Greatest of All Time debate.

Not just for being the cool customer who reads a book of poetry before coming on to smash 71 in a winning cause and fills volumes of journals back home with her thoughts on the game. Or for setting the standard that generations of cricketers aspire to. Or for dealing with decades of a sexist system and media that alternates between the inane and the indifferent — her "would you ask a male cricketer this question, who their favourite female cricketer is?" was Serena level.

No, Mithali Raj's legend status is built on the sheer force of runs and her remarkable consistency.

She is second on the list of top run-scorers in Women's One-Day Internationals at the time of writing. By the end of the World Cup, the all-time record could well be hers, and India will have the highest run-getter in both men's and women's ODIs. That, of course, is no invitation to go around calling her the female Sachin — Mithali is very much her own woman, and women's cricket is very much its own game.

1. Table of most runs in women's ODIs:

With an average of 51.80 as on date in 180 matches, Mithali is one of five women with an average above 50. Among current players, only Australia's Meg Lanning has a similarly high figure, but from 60 ODIs. Superficially, that puts Mithali in the same league as Virat Kohli (54.57) and AB de Villiers (53.55) among current players.

With an average of 51.80 as on date in 180 matches, Mithali is one of five women with an average above 50.

In fact, since her 114 not out on debut, her average has never dropped below 37, and but for a period between August 2002 and December 2003, has never fallen under 41. This is remarkable considering the women rarely have the luxury of momentum; each series is almost like starting over — form in one means little when your next match is six months away. And remember, she played nearly half her cricket when the women didn't have access to the facilities and support they now get.

In 2017, at age 34, after a record seven fifties in a row, her average was 148.33 until last week (we'll give you a few seconds to lift your jaw off the floor). Only Javed Miandad (9) has more consecutive half-centuries.

Her 52 fifty-plus scores is second only to Edwards, with the closest challenger still 21 behind. She's no big hitter — incredibly she has only 10 ODI sixes — playing the anchor for her team for years, and only now exploring new facets of her game as women's cricket comes into its own.

More proof of her dependability: Only four times has she got out for a duck. Nine times she's made more than 50% of the team's runs, and 36 times her contribution has been at least a considerable 35%.

In wins, her average proportions of runs is 23.19% (keeping in mind that in some of these she has only come in lower down the order when a bulk of the runs had already been scored), compared to 19.12% in losses.

For the record, Tendulkar made 19.24% of the total runs India scored in the matches he played in his entire ODI career.

More proof of her dependability: Only four times has she got out for a duck. Nine times she's made more than 50% of the team's runs, and 36 times her contribution has been at least a considerable 35%.

And if Mithali scores big, chances are that India will win. She's a big match player.

2. Mithali's averages:

The World Cup is one missing accolade in her career — she's already been named one of Wisden's five greats of the women's game — but that shouldn't be a marker of her legacy. It's a pity the women don't play too much Test cricket anymore; we're only denied more from the woman who made 214 in England as a 19-year-old playing her third Test. Mithali Raj is a great – let's keep gender out of it – and she deserves all the respect that comes with that.

(Karunya Keshav is a writer with Wisden India)

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