Mithali Raj’s heroic knock, which sealed India’s first-ever Women’s World Cup final berth, is No.3 in Wisden’s women’s innings of the 2000s. Akshay Gopalakrishnan recalls the special performance.
Mithali Raj 91* (104)
New Zealand v India, Women’s World Cup semi-final
Senwes Park, Potchefstroom
April 7, 2005
Already nursing a knee injury, Mithali Raj walked in to the sort of pressure that would have brought a lesser player down to her knees, and delivered one of her most memorable performances to haul India to their maiden World Cup final.
A 23-year-old Raj defied circumstances and injury to produce, in her own assessment, one of her best knocks. Called upon by her team to do a job, Raj delivered against all odds to clinch victory against a powerful New Zealand side.
The White Ferns, with a well-established liking for chasing, had little hesitation in inserting India and quickly reduced them to 38-2. The onus fell on Raj, who was already carrying the responsibility of leading the team on her young shoulders.
In overcast conditions and against a team that possessed some of the fastest bowlers in the women’s game at the time, Raj buckled down for a third-wicket stand of 66 with Anjum Chopra. Mostly playing along the ground, Raj exercised caution to blunt New Zealand’s fast bowlers. She continued to lose partners as New Zealand chipped away, but held sway despite a bad knee to haul India towards a defendable total.
The boundaries and the strokes began flowing with greater frequency towards the end of the innings. Raj wound up unbeaten on 91, as India put up 204-6. By the time she was done, Raj’s knee had swollen to the extent that she had to be confined to the dressing room to watch India’s defence. But to her delight, India’s bowlers fed off the platform she had given them to dismiss New Zealand for 164, and made their maiden final, thanks to Raj, who was named Player of the Match.
“As a batsman my toughest, and most memorable, match was the semi-final against New Zealand, a team we had lost to earlier,” Raj recalled to ESPNcricinfo in 2009. “We were under pressure at 38-2 when I came to bat. Anjum [Chopra] and I had to build the innings and our stand was crucial.
“We didn’t talk too much during the partnership. We had batted together over the years and knew each other’s style and temperament. All we said was, ‘We can do this.'”