Author : Sougat Chakravartty
As one of the current members of the Indian national women’s cricket team celebrates her birthday today, here is a look at five of the top players who have worn the blue jersey with pride:
Not since Diana Edulji has there been a player who could wield the willow as magnificently as the Jodhpur native. Mithali, who turns 31 today, has been the mainstay of the batting line-up since the retirement of Purnima Rau about 13 years ago. And not only has she handled the workload admirably, she has also led the team on many a successful occasion.
At 19, the right-hander entered the limelight when she scored a magnificent 214 against England at Taunton. In some ways, she has inherited the skills (so to speak) of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman; she has remarkable temperament and composure when at the crease, and nearly gives the impression that the ball is persuaded in the direction she wants it to go when batting.
A more-than-handy legspinner, Raj adds a dash of variety to India’s bowling attack. She was instrumental in securing the side’s first ever Test series victory in England in August 2006, and followed it up by leading the eves to four straight Asia Cup titles – the last one in 2008. A poor tour of England saw her lose the captaincy to Jhulan Goswami, but she regained it later, only to be replaced by Harmanpreet Kaur.
With over 140 ODIs and 37 T20 internationals under her belt in addition to eight Test matches, Mithali Raj is India’s most experienced campaigner in women’s cricket. An icon to emulate for budding lady cricketers everywhere!
The former cricketer from Hyderabad was also very much in the Diana Edulji mould – a stalwart in her own right. A powerful striker of the ball, Purnima was one of the first Indian women players to try and take advantage of the 15-over field restrictions, a la Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana of Sri Lanka.
A middle-order batswoman who also doubled as opener in her later years, Rau was one of the most capable wielders of the willow, and respected by many of her juniors. The likes of Mithali Raj, Anju Jain and Anjum Chopra benefited from playing with her. She was also a useful off-break bowler, used either to break threatening partnerships or stem the flow of runs while rushing through her quota.
For all her long years of experience playing for Air India as well as the national side, the bespectacled batswoman and clever off-spinner was overlooked for captaincy. Doubts lingered over her bowling action during the 2000 World Cup, destroying her rhythm completely. She was the only one to come up with a substantial score in the semi-final of that tournament where her side lost to the Kiwis. It was to be her final international game too, as she never played for India again.
One of the younger members in the current squad – she recently turned 30 – the Bengal pacer also happens to be one of the most fierce competitors women’s cricket has ever seen.
Bowling with an easy, smooth run-up, Jhulan is able to generate enough movement off the pitch to trouble rival batswomen by landing the ball on the seam, and is currently the quickest woman bowler in the world at 120 km/hr. She has had the distinction of being trained at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai by Australian legend Dennis Lillee.
A combination of ferocious desire and immaculate discipline has driven the tall, soft-spoken fast bowler to excel in the game she loves dearly. It pushed her to be at the top of the ICC’s world rankings as the number one ODI bowler, and getting the Padma Shri award as well as being anointed captain of India in October 2008.
Goswami’s tiger-like fighting instincts have bailed India out of dire straits in more than one situation. Against England in July 2012, her five-wicket haul and new-ball partner Amita Sharma’s whirlwind innings set up a successful defence of her side’s low score.
She has handled the burden of captaincy as best as possible, until Mithali Raj took it up again briefly.
At 30, Jhulan still has a lot to offer to the side – and is well on her way to become one of India’s best women cricketers in a long time!
You would normally expect left-arm spinners to be a few more inches taller. But Neetu David, one of the star players for the Railways side, has proved that one need not be blessed in height to become a master of their craft.
For she is one of India’s best ever left-arm orthodox spinners, and has played a key role in many a win for the national side.
David needs just a bit of bounce and turn on the wicket to ply her deadly trade. The flighted delivery is one of her favourites – she has mastered the loop so successfully that it has landed her plenty of victims. She could even turn the ball on tougher wickets in New Zealand and Australia, along with providing subtle variations in pace.
Like Purnima Rau, the Kanpur native has been a long-standing veteran in the national side. She called time on her career in 2006, but reversed it two years later just in time to participate in India’s successful Asia Cup campaign.
With players like Neetu around, the art of left-arm spin is not going to die anytime soon!
Currently one of the more recognisable faces of women’s cricket, the Delhi-born Chopra, in full flow, reminds one of the legendary David Gower. There is a hint of lazy elegance in her batting, and she is strong on both sides of the wicket.
She usually favours the ‘V’ for most of her scoring, similar to former NZ wicket-keeper Adam Parore. Starting slow, Chopra can accelerate once settled in.
Anjum is also in possession of a safe pair of hands, usually stationed at the slips or close to the wicket. She has led the side on a few occasions, and usually opens the innings.
She was part of India’s third straight Asia Cup winning campaign, and was bestowed with the Arjuna award in 2006, something no other male cricketer had won for long until Gautam Gambhir took the honours in 2009.
Chopra has also featured on several cricket shows as one of the experts, and was a participant on the fourth season of the reality show Fear Factor.