Sachin's advice in 2017 helped me reinvent my game and extend career: Mithali Raj 

While Tendulkar made people fall in love with the game, Mithali became the first superstar of women's cricket in India.
Former Indian skipper Mithali Raj (Photo | PTI)
Former Indian skipper Mithali Raj (Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: Having stayed at the top of their game for more than two decades, both Sachin Tendulkar and Mithali Raj are epitomai of excellence and longevity in world cricket.

While Tendulkar made people fall in love with the game, Mithali became the first superstar of women's cricket in India.

However, self-doubt can creep even in the minds of greats like Tendulkar and Mithali.

Ahead of Tendulkar's 50th birthday, Mithali spoke to PTI about her first interaction with him, the influence he had on her batting and on how a chat with the master blaster before the 2017 women's World Cup helped reinvent her game.

"I still remember our conversation before the 2017 World Cup in England. After a group conversation, I had a one-on-one chat with him. I wanted to ask him how he was able to have such a long career and how he had to reinvent himself to face new bowlers of the younger generation," Mithali said.

"When you have such a long career, every generation has stand-out bowlers, I wanted to know how he kept up with that. As you age, people start talking about your footwork getting slower, you are picking the line and length late and you are not quick on the ball.

"I wanted to know how he managed to overcome all that and be on top of his game. He did give suggestions and I tried to put that into training," said Mithali, who ended up amassing 409 runs in the 2017 World Cup and captained India to the final.

Though India came up short in the final, it was a path-breaking result as it revolutionised women's cricket in the country.

Mithali recollected that she and Tendulkar did not talk a lot about technique as the conversation was mainly about the mental side of the game.

"We did not talk in depth about technique as everyone has different techniques. As a senior pro after playing for so long, all you can help is with the preparation advice to another player and he helped me with that.

"Around that time, expectations were high for me to deliver with the bat and as captain.

"When you hear people talk about 'oh she is nearing her retirement' and you are keen to do really well in that stage and show age is not affecting your skill, that is where I thought he was the best person to reach out as he has gone through all of that," she said.

This was in 2017 but Mithali's first meeting with Sachin happened 15 years earlier after she broke the record of the highest individual score in women's Test cricket.

Women's cricket did not get the due attention and facilities back then and Mithali and her teammates were star-struck in their first interaction with the batting maestro.

"In 2002, I was recognised at the Castrol awards which used to be for male cricketers. I was invited there. He (Tendulkar) came across as someone who was very curious about how we trained, what kind of facilities we had.

"We were under WCAI back then, not BCCI. He wanted to know if I was playing a lot on matting wickets or turf wickets.

"We were playing mostly on matting wickets. He said playing on matting wickets has its advantages and it is good for your backfoot play. He came across as a very positive person," recalled Mithali who used to watch a lot of videos of Tendulkar in her early days as a cricketer.

Mithali's off-side play was a work of art but talking about Tendukar, what she found amazing was how consistently he played with the full face of the bat.

"I was never able to watch cricket like a crazy fan as I was busy playing. I would watch the highlights if I had to watch a particular shot of his or how he played Shane Warne as playing a leggie is so tough for a right-hand batter.

"Something which really hit me that he how he plays every shot with the full face of the bat, whether it is his cover drive or straight drive. I especially like the one he plays on the up-through-the-point region.

"On so many instances his teammates spoke highly about his mental preparation. Not only skills, he gave mental preparedness due importance and that is why he was able to stay on top for so long."

Tendulkar and Mithali spent 24 and 23 years respectively in international cricket and such longevity drew comparisons. Mithali said she nowhere stands close to Tendulkar's staggering achievements.

"The comparisons were only because of the longevity that both of us had. He was someone I idolised growing up, the way he has carried himself on and off the field.

"To be compared to him is huge. I don't think anyone would stand anywhere close to Sachin and his accomplishments and how he transformed a sport in India to be liked by everybody."

What makes Tendulkar different from other greats of the game? "There are two aspects to it.

He is still so involved when he talks about the sport. You see a child-like emotion on his face. He loves the sport so much.

"Second is when we retire we tend to take a back seat. We don't invest so much in preparation. I don't think he ever does that. Once we were in a camp in Mumbai and he was going to play some retired players competition and he came for training.

"That shows that when he gets on to the field, he doesn't want to take anything for granted. We are similar in that sense," added Mithali.

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