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August 19, 2002 | 1800 IST

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'A celebration for us and India,' says Mithali Raj's mother

Syed Amin Jafri

"It is really a celebration for us. Mithali has made history and done the country proud. We never expected that she would do so well and make a double century and set a new record in London," says Leela Raj, the proud mother of the 19-year-old Indian batswoman who hit the headlines by scoring a 214 runs against the England women's team in the second Test at Taunton last week.

Speaking to on Sunday, Leela Raj recalled that when she heard the news about her daughter's achievement, she did not realize its significance immediately. She said it was at 9.30 am on Friday, when her husband, S Dorai Raj, got a call from former India women's team captain Diana Eduljee in London saying Mithali had scored a century, but the news did not really enthuse her.

Then, again around midnight, Dorai Raj got another call from Eduljee, breaking the news about Mithali's new world record. Eduljee profusely congratulated him. But, by then, Leela Raj had gone off to sleep.

"But before going out for his coaching camp on Saturday morning, he told me about our daughter's achievement. Still I took it very lightly and did not think it was really something great," she confessed.

Leela Raj realized the significance of her daughter's knock only after Eduljee called up again.

"She [Eduljee] told me that 'your daughter has hit the headlines'. Again, it did not strike me. Only when I saw a TV channel announcing that Mithali has created history in London did I get the feel of it. I was alone in the house at that time and I felt quite emotional. Too much of happiness makes you cry. I went through these emotions," she said.

For Dorai Raj and Leela Raj, Mithali's record-breaking performance in women's Test cricket is reward for a decade-long of hard work put in by their daughter and them.

"This is the fruit of what we have done for 10 years. We cannot forget the contribution of her coach, Sampath Kumar, who passed away five years ago. Her other coaches, too, have found extraordinary potential in her. She has finally proved her worth. It is really an achievement," said Leela Raj.

There is one regret, though, for Leela Raj. She says women's cricket does not get covered as widely as men's.

"When the talent is the same, exposure and coverage is not the same," she points out, matter-of-factly. She feels that there is not much of excitement because not many people actually care about women's cricket.

Mithali's family is, of course, excited about her achievements, since her father, who works in Andhra Bank, and her brother are also cricket enthusiasts.

Mithali used to accompany her brother and father to a coaching camp when she was only five-years-old. She joined Marredpally Cricket Club and played a match in a women's cricket league in the city when she was barely nine. Soon she started scoring runs and got her first award -- the 'Most Promising Player' trophy -- from Andhra Pradesh's first international woman cricketer Sandra Braganza.

At the age of 12, she moved into the highly competitive women's league of Hyderabad. Playing for Sporting Glory, she impressed everyone with a score of 28 against the likes of former Indian captain Purnima Rau, Rajni Venugopal and Lakshmi. She played for 48 overs during the match.

When she was hardly 14-and-a-half years she was chosen as one of the probables for the 1997 World Cup. Though she did not play in a single international match during India's 1999 tour of England, she got good exposure. But she made waves in international cricket when she averaged 75 in the women's World Cup in 2000, in New Zealand, though she could play in only three matches as she was affected with jaundice.

She was made vice-captain of the Indian team for the current series against England. She had low scores in her previous innings, but more than compensated for it in the Taunton Test by scoring an all-time high individual score of 214. During the marathon 10-hour knock, she faced 407 balls and hit 19 boundaries.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu congratulated Mithali on her world-record. "Mithali, who hails from Secunderabad, has done the state and the nation proud. I wish her many more laurels in the days to come," he said in a message.

AP Women's Cricket Association chairperson J Geeta Reddy, AP Sports Minister P Ramulu and Sports Authority of AP managing director L V Subrahmanyam also congratulated her on her achievement.

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