Mithali Raj’s Twitter bio reads: ‘I dream. I work hard. I grind, until I own it.’ Cricket was an acquired taste for a nine-year-old lazy girl pushed into the sport by a disciplinarian father. As a 14-year-old Raj was overlooked for a World Cup spot despite bucket-loads of talent; laid low by typhoid when her chance finally came in 2000; made up for it by leading India to its first-ever final in 2005 and a dozen years later became the only captain – male or female – to repeat that feat. Now as her storied career is in its final few laps, Raj has raced miles ahead of her peers, rewriting several records in indelible ink.
A few hundred saw her as Harmanpreet Kaur mercilessly hit sixes at will in her maiden WBBL stint, last year. Few thousands were tuned in when she pulled off a Dhoni-esque six-off-penultimate-ball chase in the World Cup Qualifier, in February. But when eyeballs from at least three countries were on her, in a high-octane World Cup semifinal against defending champions Australia, Harmanpreet batted like a woman possessed. There will rarely be a better advertisement of a spectacle that women’s cricket can be.
For a then 17-year-old Deepti Sharma, a dream came true when she donned national colours to play alongside her idol Mithali Raj. A little over two years down the line, when the World Cup glory seemed to be slowly slipping away, wicket by wicket, an expectant captain’s eyes were affixed on this teenager to pull off a miracle.
Six months ago Smriti Mandhana lay on a Melbourne hospital’s operation table, hoping the surgeons won’t cut open her World Cup dream. Two knocks into the sojourn, the India opener had incited a 10-year-old back home to get her jersey customized with ‘Mandhana’ written on the back of it.