Mithali Raj, an accomplished cricketer and woman of style
You could call Mithali Raj unique. Captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, she is the only female cricketer in the world so far to surpass the 6,000-run mark in ODIs, the first Indian cricket captain to lead the team to an ICC ODI World Cup final twice and has recently made it at number 13 in the Lord’s Top 20 Players of 2017 list.
But Mithali’s life is not only about the sport she plays professionally. The 35-year-old is just as comfortable as a glamour queen as she is on the cricket pitch; in fact, when she’s all dressed up, you could almost imagine her on the big screen, playing herself in a biopic. But that will never happen, she laughs. “Acting is just not my style,” she says. “Though I don’t mind having a film made on my life, mainly because it celebrates the journey of a woman cricketer, which doesn’t happen very often.”
What is her style if it isn’t acting? Honestly, it could be anything. When I first meet Mithali at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bengaluru, she’s just walked in from training camp, in T-shirt and shorts, hair in a bun, looking like the girl next door. After stylist Shamali and make-up artist Michel are done with her, Mithali is stunning in everything she wears for this shoot. She’s just as confident in a pair of jeans matched with a flaming red top and high heels, and in an off-shoulder blouse, and in a body-hugging white gown, as she was in her work clothes. Clearly, it isn’t clothes that make Mithali look awesome. It’s the other way around. Mithali makes clothes look amazing.
“No matter how stylish you are, you cannot look good if you are not confident,” says Mithali, shrugging off our praise. “And that has a lot to do with your comfort level. I am comfortable with the clothes, and that’s why I am confident of myself.”
Style and the woman
Glamour and sports definitely go hand in hand. Cricketer Virat Kohli is considered a style icon. Tennis player Sania Mirza has rocked fashion magazine covers with her nose ring and designer wear. Even shuttler PV Sindhu has had a date with fashion.
Mithali is very much on this list of Indian sports people who rock their games and their style. For instance, dressed in a gorgeous black Johanna Ortiz jumpsuit, with blown out hair, she shared cover space with icons like Shah Rukh Khan and Nita Ambani in the 10th anniversary issue of Vogue this year, and pretty much stole the limelight.
But that wasn’t her first brush with glamour. She’s always been stylish in her own way, and slightly resents the way people seem to believe that sports people only live in sportswear. “I have always been fashionable, but people don’t know that because I have only recently been in the public eye,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed wearing dresses since I was a teenager. But they have to be comfortable; neither too tight, nor too short. Comfort has always been the keyword for me. My body needs to breathe.”
Dresses have always been Mithali’s go-to glam simply because, as a cricketer from the age of 10, her wardrobe has been dominated by shorts and track pants. “Initially when I started experimenting with my looks, I felt a little out of place. Thankfully, my mom has always given me the freedom to wear whatever I want, which is mostly Western wear,” she says. “I am not comfortable in traditional wear like saris and salwar-kameez since I was rarely home for family functions or festivals.”
Labels are not at the top of her mind when she shops. Mithali is concerned only with fit and fabric, and is just as happy buying from flea markets as she is from malls. She’s also realistic about her style choices and has never fallen into the fashion victim trap of never repeating an outfit at social events. “If I feel good about a particular dress or style, then I have no qualms about repeating it even on a public platform,” she says. “I’m not like celebs who are scared to do so. This way, I want to tell people that I am as normal as they are, and do the same things.”
Unlike most teenagers, Mithali never felt the need for parties and nightclubs. She was just happy with her girl gang, and even on her first date, which happened when she was in Class 11, she wasn’t ‘dressed up’.
“I was not interested in clothes or make-up at that time. I just wore jeans and a top,” Mithali smiles. “I always preferred casual wear, though my mother used to complain about it sometimes. I started using make-up very late and still don’t use it often except for social events. And even then, I have sometimes gone make-up free, and felt just as confident about myself.”
Life, for Mithali, is about being in control. Perhaps this stems from the way she spent her years, training, training and training more. “I have mostly been away from home, so besides my parents, the books I read shaped my life,” she says. “The few that have influenced me include my all-time favourite, Jeffrey Archer’s Paths of Glory, a fantasy series by Rick Riordan called Heroes of Olympus, and another by Matthew Reilly, which is based on the relationship between a teacher and a student. All these books have nurtured my intellectual ability.”
This independence of mind is why Mithali pays no attention to the trolls who diss her fashion choices – “I can’t change my life for these people” – and also says, she has no sports icons herself. “I want to do things in my style,” she says firmly. “Everyone has their own uniqueness.” She also does not worship film celebs, though she admires Shah Rukh Khan for his wit, and enjoys Twinkle Khanna’s posts on Insta and Twitter. “I like Twinkle’s style,” says Mithali. “I feel she is more real than other Bollywood celebs.”
Beauty, for her, is about originality, not perfection. “Even imperfection can be beautiful, while made-up beauty is short lived,” she says firmly. “Being different is also beautiful. When you go out, people say that you have to behave a certain way. I don’t believe in living up to those norms.”
This is why skincare is more important to Mithali than make-up. “I am more concerned about issues related to pigmentation after being in the sun for long hours,” she says. “I would prefer to invest in good skincare brands. Especially sunscreens that can protect my skin.”
But she’s open to make-up experimentation too: she loves trying new things – as long as the products are good. “I have sensitive skin, so I am very particular about this,” she says.
She also enjoys dressing up once in a while, but she would never overdo it even for a special date. “I would definitely dress up, but not so much that my personality is overshadowed,” she says. “And the person I’d like to be with must be willing to accept a strong, independent woman like me. Even today, men don’t want independent women. Women are still not treated equally. I want the special person in my life to be someone who will let me take the responsibility for my life.”
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From HT Brunch, December 10, 2017
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