Indian women’s Cricket has plunged into a crisis since the defeat against England in the World T20 semifinal last week. The row between ODI captain and the senior most cricketer Mithali Raj and the (now former) coach Ramesh Powar has threatened to tear the team apart with Captain Harmanpreet Kaur caught in the middle of it.
When India announced playing XI for the semifinal against England during the World T20, the absence of Mithali Raj’s name for such an important match, caused quite a few raised eyebrows. Captain Harmanpreet explained that they just want to continue with the winning combination that worked so well to defeat the powerful Australian side, the eventual champions.
However, that defeat was just the beginning of the storm that now engulfs women cricket in India. Mithali Raj sent a long letter to BCCI detailing her disagreements with Powar and questioning the decision to drop her. As per reports, Powar has himself raised questions over Mithali’s professionalism and her contribution to a negative environment in the Caribbean.
Mithali in her letter stated that she was unhappy with the decision to drop her to the middle order during the first game of the tournament and reached out to the selectors to get back the opening slot for the game against Pakistan, which she got.
Once she did that, she undermined the Captain and the Coach who are responsible for selecting the final XI and the batting order. Powar is new to coaching and was an interim coach, so he probably got easily pressurised to change the batting order as per the selectors’ wish; can’t imagine a senior coach tolerating this undermining of his authority.
Mithali states she couldn’t understand the change in the behaviour of Powar after that, as he started ignoring her. Bypassing a coach and speaking to the selectors to get the batting spot she desires, and she couldn’t understand why the coach suddenly had no faith in her? I am surprised Powar didn’t send her back from the Caribbean right there and then as it was clear by then that Mithali is not pulling in the same direction as the team management on tour.
Captain and Coach thought an experienced batter in the middle order can guard against a collapse and more aggressive batters as openers can help exploit the first 6 overs better. With Mithali’s reluctance to bat down the order, India went without her for the semifinal and as it turned out, lost thanks to a 23 for 8 collapses in the middle order. Precisely the type of collapse that could have been avoided by having an experienced hand and one of the best Indian batter in history.
In sharp contrast to the Indian side is the eventual champion Australia. Players like Ellyse Perry and Rachael Haynes, with very good record up the order, were playing at Number 6 and 7 as that is what the team desired from them. Rachael was even asked during the tournament if she wants to move up the order but the Australian Vice-Captain decided her role down the order is crucial for the team’s success. Who knows what would have happened if the senior players in Indian side were as willing as these players to put the team over the individual preferences and performances.
Mithali’s contribution to the Indian women’s cricket has been immense during the past 16 years that she has spent representing the country but on this particular occasion, she let the team down, put the Captain Harmanpreet Kaur in the middle of a no-win situation, and took the attention away from what was a very good run in the tournament for the team otherwise, as they made it to the semifinal by topping a group also involving strong Australian and New Zealand sides.
With Powar out now as his interim stint came to an end, the new coach will have a huge challenge on his hand to unite all the players and get them to work together towards the team’s goals instead of looking out for individual ambitions and personal records.