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On a different pitch

Cricketer Mithali Raj loves curd rice and shopping.

Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

HER SLENDER frame belies the fact that she set a world record (214 runs against England at Taunton, Somerset) in August 2002. But cricketer Mithali Raj continues to blaze her way to big scores. Settling down at Dakshin restaurant, ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers, she gives a glimpse of her persona. "I'll have light South Indian food," she says in her down-to-earth way. Chef Khantwal, Executive Chef of the Hotel, orders a typical menu. Her foray into cricket sounds like a story. "I used to accompany my brother to the ground for his practice. While he gave up cricket after Class X, I took it up seriously. I joined a summer camp in 1991-92 and was the only girl. I used to also learn dance initially from the late Subhasini Shankar (my teacher at Keyes High School) and later under Ananda Shankar Jayant. At school I was coached cricket by the late Sampath Kumar. In 1992 I was selected for the State Sub-juniors and the nationals."

That was the beginning and the crucial decision to pursue cricket was taken up in 1997. "Till class X dance and cricket continued side-by-side but once I was selected for the India camp in February '97 (the World Cup was scheduled in December) I concentrated on cricket." Her parents and teachers encouraged her.

As she bites into Urukazhanga varuval (fried baby potatoes) Mithali says she started off as an all-rounder. Since I got runs I became more of a batsman."

Her food habits are pretty simple. "I love curd rice and dal-rice with ghee. They are easy to swallow and digest." "She likes them as she doesn't have to exercise her jaw much," chips in her mother. Egg flip, nuts (almonds and peanuts), banana and boiled beetroot and carrots are a must in her diet. "She can't do without curds. She likes it sweet and thick," adds her mother. Mithali eats all veggies except those of the bean family and loves crab, fish (fish fry) and brain. Among fruits, custard apple is a favourite. Ice creams are definitely in but only chocolate, pista and butterscotch. A little secret is she loves chaat - bhel puri and pani puri. She indulges when she is out as she is strictly watched in Hyderabad. "In fact I had it before the World Cup in 1997 and fell sick in New Zealand. I could play only three matches," she reminisces.

The food arrives - Veechi parotta (layered parotta) and kai (vegetable) stew from Kerala, Kadala gassi (Saraswat preparation), Tomato pappu (Andhra Pradesh) and Makka cholam keerai (Spinach and corn - Tamil Nadu) and of course her favourite curd. Her fitness regime before the recent series revolved around running and jogging with a few exercises. "At the camp before the recent series a trainer chalked out the fitness routine. Now I go to the gym twice. I do a lot of stretching exercises before and after jogging," she says.

After her Intermediate Mithali was offered a job in the Railways. Although she took it up she is doing her graduation by correspondence. After office (which is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) she regularly practices. What she is happy about is "now I get a little more time to sleep."

Mithali loves to shop for footwear and clothes wherever she goes. "I can skip a meal for shopping," she says. She likes New Zealand and South Africa. Although she gave up classical dancing, Mithali loves dancing in general and shakes a leg when she is out of the city. She tries not to miss Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin on the telly.

Why has women's cricket movement not gained momentum in the country? "I think it's because we play slow cricket, we are not aggressive like men. Physically we are considered weaker and we don't hit soaring sixes." Does sponsorship and promotion makes a difference? "Media coverage definitely helps as most of the times people don't know that a women's match is being played. People hardly know the scores. For most of the matches overseas in fact we give the results to the family when they call."

"Till now the Women's Cricket Association of India has not merged with the men's. If that happens then we will have access to better facilities like a physio and a trainer," feels Mithali. On a comparative basis Mithali says: "The women's team in Australia and New Zealand have access to such facilities. The Indian team is on par with them as far as technique goes. But the foreign teams are quick in fielding and the bowlers generate more pace. But their players are cautious when they play Indian spinners."

Her favourites are Sachin Tendulkar, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Bevan. Did she meet her idol Sachin? "I met him briefly last year at the Castrol Awards in Chennai. I was so dumbstruck I could hardly speak. He asked me a few questions on where I train and practise."

Over rasmalai Mithali says she is looking forward to the World Cup in South Africa in 2005. "If the Indian team works on its fielding and bowling attack there is no reason why we cannot make it to the finals." Good luck to that.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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