Indian women’s cricket great and ODI captain Mithali Raj on Tuesday announced her retirement from T20 Internationals, a format in which she signs off as the country’s leading run-scorer despite a controversy-ridden last leg. The 36-year-old said she wants to focus on her ODI career, keeping in mind the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand. The veteran’s announcement came as a surprise, considering that she last week made herself available for the home series against South Africa, beginning September 24.
“After representing India in T20 internationals since 2006, I wish to retire from T20Is to focus my energies on readying myself for the 2021 ODI World Cup,” said Mithali in a BCCI statement. Mithali ended her T20 career with 2364 runs from 89 matches at an average of 37.5 and a highest score of 97 not out. She made her T20I debut in 1999 and played her last match in March against England in Guwahati.
Mithali is also the first Indian woman to reach the landmark of 2000 T20 runs. The senior opener captained the country in 32 T20 Internationals, including the three World Cups in 2012 (Sri Lanka), 2014 (Bangladesh) and 2016 (India). With the announcement, she can now put all her focus on the 50-over World Cup in 2021. She had captained India to their second World Cup final in 2017, a feat that gave a much needed impetus to women’s cricket in the country.
“It remains my dream to win a World Cup for my country and I want to give it my best. I thank the BCCI for their continuous support and wish the Indian T20 team good luck as they prepare for the home series against South Africa women,” said Mithali who captained India in their first ever T20 International back in 2006. The Jodhpur-born player, who was no more a sure starter in the T20s playing eleven, was earlier expected to retire after the home series against England in March.
After expressing her desire to play the five-match series against South Africa last week, Mithali seems to have had a change of heart. Speculation was rife over Mithali’s future in T20s ever since she was controversially left out out of the playing eleven for the World T20 semifinals against England last year.
The dropping blew into a major furore during which she accused the then coach Ramesh Powar of trying to destroy her career. It is widely believed that she has had a fallout with T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who had backed her ouster from the team at the time. The controversy ended after Powar was sacked and W V Raman came in as the new coach of the team. A senior BCCI official said that Mithali’s decision was the right one and on expected lines.
“I don’t know why she made that statement last week, that she wanted to play the South Africa series. She was not an automatic selection in the eleven anymore with the T20 World Cup early next year, it is important that enough chances are given to the youngsters,” said the official. “She has been a great of the game and all great players know when to exit.
She has taken the right decision,” the official added. Mithali remains a colossus in women’s cricket and is the batting mainstay in the ODI line-up. In 203 ODIs, she has scored 6720 runs at an average of 51.29 with seven hundreds. She has also played in 10 Tests with 663 runs including a hundred.