India captain insists at an event of this magnitude, the focus must be entirely on women cricketers.
Interviewer: “Who is your favourite male cricketer?”
Mithali Raj: “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer – who your favourite female cricketer is? I have always been asked who is your favourite cricketer, but you should ask them who their favourite female cricketer is.”
The comment made during the media interaction in London ahead of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 has gone viral. Clare Connor, Charlotte Edwards, Sania Mirza, Jwala Gutta, Preeti Menon and Aakash Chopra are some of the big names to have endorsed Raj's view, apart from a number of her contemporaries.
A day after making that statement, Raj, who spent a busy Friday morning thanking her supporters on Twitter, said she was not being arrogant, but spoke from her heart.
“I didn’t intend to be rude. It just came straight from my heart,” Raj said ahead of India’s opening game against England Women. “This is a stage for women’s cricket – it’s the Women’s Cricket World Cup. So, why would you not give a woman player more importance? This is our stage, our platform. Why do you have to talk about men’s cricket? I just put it that way. That’s what I meant. Look – I am sure everybody has their favourite cricketer. There’s nothing wrong in that. It just came out. It was very spontaneous.
“The questionnaire should be around women’s cricket, and not men’s cricket, which I am sure you all do when you cover men’s cricket,” she added. “You don’t get women’s cricket in it.”
Raj revealed that this was going to be her last 50-over World Cup, and she was going to enjoy the experience. “This will be my last one-day World Cup. In all practicality, I won’t be a part of the squad in four years. I still have a couple of years in international cricket,” she said. “Usually people say it’s your last World Cup, so you should end on a high. I don’t believe in that. It’s an opportunity for me to be myself, express myself, and enjoy the kind of experience the World Cup carries. I probably won’t be a part of it in the next edition. I will try to enjoy it as much as I can and carry a lot of memories – good or bad, it doesn’t matter to me.”
While Raj, who will be playing her fifth World Cup, has asked the youngsters to soak in the experience, Heather Knight, the England captain, admitted that there would be pressure while playing a big tournament at home, but said that was what they had been looking forward to.
“There is bound to be pressure. It’s going to be one of the most visible World Cups. Pressure comes with that, but as a team we try and embrace that,” Knight said. “There is bound to be nerves. We are all human at the end of the day. How we deal with that, and use the pressure to our advantage -- that’s what you train for. You want to play in front of people watching you, you want that pressure, and you want to perform under pressure. So, as a side we are trying to go and relish it.”
How the game goes could set the tone for the rest of the tournament, and Mark Robinson, England’s head coach, was hopeful of a perfect cricket day.
“It’s a good wicket with a tinge of green. It’s interesting. We don’t play here. We don’t go to these venues regularly, so not that we know of them,” Robinson said. “From my county experience, it looks a good wicket. All the competition wants a good wicket. We all want sunshine and great wickets. Derby will try the hardest to give us that. May the best team win.”