Mithali Raj was a batter

Looking back at the career of this great who has now retired.

Mithali Raj was a lot of things, but first, there was batting.

Women were often taught cricket in the most technically correct way, even as male cricketers had long since moved on from picture-perfect techniques. Talk to cricket coaches who work with boys and girls, and they will tell you a story of how girls follow the correct methods and the boys do what they want. This actually held the women's game back, as the textbook didn't always work in games.

Mithali Raj was the living embodiment of that. So technically correct that her game almost didn't feel real at times. She was the MCC Coaching manual in human form.

Her cricket career started the way many women become  athletes, through an older brother. And it was also because her father, an Air Force Sergeant, didn't want her to sleep in. In fact, according to Mithali, he trained her like a racehorse. She has talked about not having proper relationships even today, because the only thing she could focus on was playing cricket.

It's an odd upbringing, and it continued with her coach, who made her practice in a hallway and would hit her with a stick if the ball struck the walls. Everything about this was so over the top and certainly isn't how you would handle talent today. But that is also why she became the player she did.

And she was that good, almost immediately. She made her debut in 1999. Which, well, is such a long time ago.And ofcourse she made a hundred in the first game.

This is an incredible story of people just trying to play cricket no matter what.

But perhaps the most important knock early on was in 2002, where she made a Test double century against England. No one else passed 62 for her team. And England used nine bowlers along the way. The rest of India could be dismissed, Not Mithali.

In her career, she played for over four decades. Not many modern cricketers do that. It is her and Sachin Tendulkar for India of recent times. But because of how women's cricket was mistreated, Mithali would play 12 Tests. Sachin would play a few more.

She does share one record with Tendulkar and Pakistani legend Javed Minded, all of them played six world cups. And while India never won that tournament, she got them into finals and changed the perception of them as a team along the way.

And because of that, it is ODI cricket she left the most significant legacy, if nothing else, because that was the main format of cricket for women. She is the all-time leading run scorer in that format; by a lot. No one is even kinda close to her.

And if you just look at Indian women, she has double the amount of runs scored by her closest countrywoman. In fact, she made 17% of India's all-time runs in that format.

That is barely believable. She is a woman a part in every sense. Her and Jhulan Goswami helped build the sport in their nation, and the world game too.

Put it this way, the 15th highest scorer in ODIs for India is Vaida Krishnamoorthy. She started playing the game inspired by Mithali and that World Cup of 2005. Mithali isn't just the runs she made, she is the game that changed and the careers of others as well.

The weird thing is, that in helping to change the game, making it something for women to court as a job and helping make it professional she made herself slow. She built a form of cricket that no longer suited her. The technically correct women were taken over by power plays like Harmanpreet Kaur, Lizelle Lee and Nat Sciver.

In some ways, she played too long, because she went from the best player in the game to someone out of time. Her inability to play a grammatically incorrect shot meant teams could put together set ring fielders knowing she would stay and make runs, but not at the current speeds. She was locked up in a glass cage playing beautiful shots that often gave her no runs while other women were just swinging from the hip.

I have repeatedly said that I could watch her cover drive all day long. It was a perfect execution of that shot aesthetically and technically. Sometimes it seemed impossible for the opposition to get through her defence. That is all great, but not when the Australians have made 350 and you need to score at seven an over.

But if you think about that, you have to remember when she started. No form of cricket has ever transformed quicker than the women's game in the last 15 years.

Put it this way, Mithali Raj was not a BCCI cricketer when she began. She started her career under the Women's Cricket Association of India. Even when Mithali helped India make the 2005 World Cup final, they were still playing under that body and not the BCCI. It was the same with the ICC; neither body ran women's cricket when Mithali started. When I say she came from another era, it was another world, another Millenium, and practically another sport.

When Mithali started playing not only was it an amateur game, but it was really more like a sport designed for ladies of leisure. Many of the players around the world had to work a full-time job and beg their employers to let them off, or they had independent wealth, which allowed for cricket on the side. Fifteen years after her debut, we saw the first women's professionals.

And with women's Test cricket not growing in the same way, her skills, patience, technique, and discipline were not as in vogue. She spent so long at the crease batting taht one day she looked up and the world had changed around her.

She goes with names like Rachael Heyhoe Flint, Belinda Clark, Charlotte Edwards and Sana Mir, as women who not only played the game, but built and changed it.

She was one of my favourites from the first time I saw her cover drive. It was so perfect. In the Two Chucks days, I had a cap made up with the image of her driving on it. Now I have only a couple of signed cricket items in my office, and one of them is Mithali Raj's iconic white floppy hat.

The game moved so fast because of Mithali and others, that she was now a throwback to another era entirely. Reading books on the sideline and a hat from the 90s. And she will rightfully get plaudits for being a pioneer, someone who made young Indian women understand this could be a profession, and her incredible leadership by example to her fellow players.

All of that is great. I think there are many people more qualified than I am to talk about the lasting impact she has made on Indian cricket, and the women's game around the world. There are no doubt negatives sides to her career as well.

But I want everyone to remember what all that legacy came from. She started with impeccable footwork, a high front elbow and a languid swing of the bat. She built her legend on batting, so while it's great to remember her as a pioneer, a legend and hero to another generation, first, Mithali Raj was a batter.