Punam Raut raises her bat after reaching a milestone. ©ICC

In cricket, generally, ‘hunt in pairs’ is a phrase commonly used in relation to pace bowlers. But a glance at the statistics of the partnership between Punam Raut and Mithali Raj show that this batting pair takes down the opposition bowling together. Slowly and steadily.

In the 27 ODI innings Raut and Mithali have batted together, they have scored 1263 runs at an average of 50.52, including six century stands and three fifty-run stands. Staggering numbers these.

While for Raut, this is her most successful pairing in ODIs, for Mithali it is the third-best – Anjum Chopra and Harmanpreet Kaur taking the cake. Although the India ODI skipper has scored more runs alongside Chopra and Kaur, their averages languish in the 30s.

“Mithali di is one of the best batters in the world. Every batter wishes to spend time in the middle with her and score runs,” said Raut, after her player of the match outing against South Africa in the second ODI on Friday (October 11). “We get confidence in our own game being with her. When I bat with her, I think of just staying there and the runs flow on their own.”

She, literally, was just there.

Raut had walked in after Jemimah Rodrigues’ fall, when India were 34 for 1. Ten of the first 14 balls she faced were dots. Yet she had 10 runs to show, courtesy two fours. She seemed intent to bide her time and wait for the bad balls to come her way.

‘Intent’ is often a misinterpreted word. Many mistake intent for aggression, quick runs, big shots, etc. Raut showed intent without any of these ingredients. Her third boundary came in the 20th over of the chase. But then, with intent, she played out dots, saw off bowlers, kept out the good balls, rotated the strike and more. Only in the 30th over did her next boundary come. It was old-school batting at its best.

“Mithali was scoring the runs and my thought was to give her the strike,” she said. “I saw that since she was taking the risks, I should play conservatively. I was thinking of holding one end up.”

At the other end, Raj wasn’t really taking risks. But she had raced to her 53rd half-century in just 57 balls – a trademark free-flowing, stroke-filled innings. She was specially severe on spinners Nondumiso Shangase and Sune Luus. That allowed Raut to take more time to get set. Eventually, the one-drop batter brought up her 12th ODI fifty off 73 balls.

“The required rate was around five an over. So, we had a plan of scoring at least five an over without much risks. We had gauged that they had more pacers and facing pacers on this track was easier,” said Raut on their approach to the run-chase.

“We aimed to stay in the middle and capitalize on the loose deliveries. When we got closer, we thought of taking more calculated risks. (Shabnim) Ismail and (Marizane) Kapp were their main bowlers and we were talking about tackling them. Our aim was to tackle them without much risks.”

The heat and humidity got to Raut soon. She then perished three balls after Raj did. Her attempted scoop off Ayabonga Khaka found Kapp at short fine leg. However, by the time the pair had separated, they had added 129 runs in a tad under 27 overs.

“I tried to finish the game; I shouldn’t have got out at that time. I was a bit tired and getting cramps as well. So risk had to be taken. But I was disappointed at not having finished it from the spot we were in.”

Spending time in the middle worked well for Raut, who finished with 65 off 92 balls with seven fours. Although she didn’t quite get India over the line, her ‘intent’ – to occupy the crease as only she knows how – took them within touching distance of the target, close enough for Kaur to apply her trademark finishing touches to India’s highest ever successful ODI run-chase.

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