Mithali Raj – Captain, Indian women’s cricket team
Women’s cricket is on the cusp of entering a professional era, and among the handful of international players who stand out as true global icons, Mithali Raj is first among equals. In the Indian team, Mithali’s stature is nothing less than was Sachin Tendulkar’s in the 1990s. She is the heart and soul of the batting order and has confessed that this restricts her from playing a free flowing game. Despite that, it hasn’t stopped her from becoming the first player to complete 6,000 runs in women’s ODIs in the ongoing Women’s World Cup, where she led India to the finals, eventually losing to hosts England by 9 runs in an agonisingly close game.
Mithali made a mark in 2002, when as a teenager she achieved a staggering 214 against England, at that time the highest individual score in women’s Test cricket. She has been playing for so long that she recalls that when she made her debut, balls weren’t counted methodically by a centralised scoring system in women’s matches. This is why, unfortunately, she doesn’t have a documented strike rate!
Mithali’s place in the Indian cricket’s hall of greats can be summed up with a single piece of stat: among Indian players, she has more 50+ scores than the next three players combined!
Aditi Ashok – professional golfer
Golf is often associated with corporate movers and shakers using the greens to strike deals in salubrious surroundings or with grey-haired men walking up leisurely to the next hole for the next swing. Aditi Ashok, is shattering these impressions, one eagle at a time. She is the youngest and the first Indian player to qualify for the Ladies European Tour, and has won the Hero Women’s Indian Open, Qatar Ladies Open in 2016. The titles came within a span of two weeks, earning her the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. Ranked at 93, she broke into the top 100 rankings earlier this year, a position that should improve steadily as she gears up for the United States Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, considered the most competitive circuit for women. She has represented India at the Rio Olympics and one hopes that by 2020, she will be among India’s strongest medal prospects.
Jhulan Goswami – bowler, Indian women’s cricket team
Recently Sachin Tendulkar shared a post on his Facebook page, talking about how a “young Jhulan Goswami defied the odds and family members who thought cricket wasn’t the ideal profession for her, travelling 80kms to train in Kolkata. She woke up daily at 4:30am to take a local train to the city.” Fast bowlers, irrespective of gender, do not generally have long careers, injuries driving their bodies into submission. But Jhulan has been hurling the ball for 15 years, and is still on top of her game. With 190 one day international (ODI) wickets, she is also the highest wicket taker in women’s ODI, and the top ranked ICC women’s bowler since January 2016. She has helped the country win many landmark matches, including India’s first Test victory against England in 2006, where she made a fifty as nightwatchman in the first Test at Leicester and took her career-best match figures of 10 for 78 in the second Test at Taunton.
Dutee Chand – National champion, 100m sprint
No Indian sprinter has been able to run in the footsteps of PT Usha. So, in 2013 when an 18-year-old Dutee Chand clocked in 23.811 seconds to win the bronze medal in the 200m event at the Asian Championships in Pune, every one sat up and took note of her. Coming from a family of weavers in Odisha, she followed in the footsteps of her sister, also an athlete. Dutee faced discrimination from India’s notorious sports administrators when she was dropped from the 2014 Commonwealth Games contingent at the last minute after the Athletic Federation of India stated that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete. Not allowing any of that to effect her, she became the third Indian ever to qualify for the 100m at the Olympics, last year at Rio. In the recently concluded Asian Athletics Championships, she took home two bronze medals – Women’s 4x100m relay and the individual 100m bronze.
Heena Sidhu – pistol shooter
Among the Indian shooters who have won medals across the globe in the last decade, Heena Sidhu stands tall despite her petite frame. She has a host of firsts to her credit: the first Indian pistol shooter to reach number one in world rankings (April 2014), the first Indian pistol shooter to win a gold medal in an ISSF World Cup finals (10m Air Pistol, 2013) and the World record holder in the 10m air pistol event with a final score of 203.8 in 2014. More recently, she teamed up with fellow India shooter Jitu Rai to win the ‘gold badge’ in the 2017 ISSF World Cup. She qualified for two consecutive Olympics’ (London 2012 and Rio 2016), but is yet to taste Olympic glory. Third time lucky? Fingers crossed for her.