A feud between an international player and a coach does not seem to leave Indian Cricket. There is a long history of disputes between an integral Indian Cricket player and the coach of the national team. Disputes that have tarnished the reputation of the game in the country and also brought to light, the internal politics.
Dating back to the 90’s when cricketer turned politician Manoj Prabhakar had problems with then coach of the national cricket team, the legendary Kapil Dev, this issue has over the years crept in again and again. One of the most successful captains that the country has ever produced, Sourav Ganguly too had a clash with Greg Chappell, whom Sourav himself had suggested to be the coach of the Indian Cricket team at that point of time. The next was a feud between current captain Virat Kohli who had ‘reservations’ against the legendary Indian leg break bowler Anil Kumble.
The Indian Women Cricket Team too has had its own fair share of controversies and feud between a player and coach. All the senior players were totally against the coach, Tushar Arothe, who guided them to the finals of the 2017 Women 50-over World Cup. Even in the past, there were differences amongst the senior players and the then coach of the national team Anju Jain, which ultimately led to her resignation.
Nowadays, fresh from the woes of the semi-final defeat against England in the Women T20 World Cup, there is a huge controversy going on in the India Women cricketing fraternity. Having been dropped from two big games against Australia and all-important semi-final clash against England, Mithali Raj and her manager have expressed discontentment with Ramesh Powar. Raj and her manager expressed that Powar unfairly removed her from the team and subjected her to ‘humiliating’ treatment.
Responding to Raj’s scathing attack against him, Powar did not hold back. He alleged in his report to BCCI that Raj threatened to retire midway through the World T20 after having been denied the opening slot. He further accused the senior player of throwing tantrums and creating chaos within the team. He justified that his dropping of the ODI captain from the playing XI was due to the mere fact that she had lower strike-rate and she didn’t have the ability to play big shots when the situation arose.
Below is a detailed representation of the entire incident involving Raj and Powar that has shaken the women cricketing fraternity:
4th Nov: After Raj’s dismissal for a duck against West Indies women in the first warm-up match, the team management decided to move her from the opening slot to middle-order slot. Her inability to play big shots and make use of the powerplay field restrictions due to the slow nature of the pitch contributed to this decision.
7th Nov: Raj is still tried out as an opener against England in the second warm-up match. She scores 18 runs off 25 balls with a strike rate (SR) of 72.
9th Nov: On their first match against New Zealand, India try out Taniya Bhatia with Smriti Mandhana as an opener. Both fail miserably as India are reduced to 41 runs for the loss of three wickets. India, however, manage to win the match. Allegedly there are reports that Raj refuses to play in the middle-order and warns the team that she will consider retirement midway through the tournament.
11th Nov: Chasing a target of 134 with ten runs already in the board without even a single bowl delivered, India opt for Raj to partner Mandhana. India are off to flyer with 48 on the board without a loss of single wicket at the end of the powerplay. Raj scores 20 out of 16 deliveries she faced in the powerplay. She goes on to score a match-winning knock of 57 runs off 47 deliveries with a decent SR of 119.15.
15th Nov: After being asked to bat first by Ireland, India send in Mandhana and Raj as openers. India yet again are off to a flyer in the powerplay as Mandhana demolishes the Irish bowlers with a free-flowing 28 off 22 deliveries. Mithali, on the other hand, struggles as she scores 19 out of 21 deliveries. She goes on to score 51 facing 56 deliveries with a poor SR of 91.07. India marches to victory with Raj being adjudged the player of the match.
17th Nov: Having already qualified for the knock-out stages, India drops Mithali playing an extra bowler in her place. The team management justifies this move by saying that they wanted to check a few other alternatives before an all-important semi-final clash. India defeats Australia and goes on to top the group.
23rd Nov: India announces an unchanged squad that defeated Australia for an all-important semi-final clash against England. India goes on to lose the match and the decision to drop Mithali is heavily criticized by the media. Harmanpreet Kaur, the Indian Captain justifies the decision by saying that it was a collective decision made by the team management including the vice-captain Mandhana, the national coach Powar, the traveling selector Sudha Shah, and the captain herself. This was so as to not disrupt the winning combination of the team, and also that they needed an extra bowler due to the pitch’s behavior.
24th Nov: Fresh from the loss at the hands of England and the shock of Mithali’s exclusion from the playing XI, Raj’s manager Annisha Gupta lashed out at Harmanpreet, calling her ‘manipulative, lying, immature and undeserving captain’.
24th Nov: TOI published manager Trupti Bhattacharya’s report that confirmed that it was a collective decision made by the team management as justified by Kaur. The reasons were also the same. In the meantime, the captain stated that all was good within the team.
28th Nov: On a scathing letter penned by Raj to BCCI that got leaked, the player accused Powar of humiliating her and unfairly omitting her from the team. She further stated that she held no grudges against the captain although the decision to support her omission was personally baffling and hurtful.
29th Nov: Responding to Raj’s scornful attack, Powar alleged that Raj was aloof and difficult to handle. He further mentioned in his reports that Raj threatened to retire midway through the World T20 after having been denied the opening slot. He additionally charged the ODI captain of throwing tantrums and creating chaos within the team. He also defended his decision to bench the ODI captain from the playing XI was due to the sheer fact that she had lower strike-rate and did not have the ability to play big shots when the situation arose.
30th Nov: Amid the ongoing tension surrounding the women team, the BCCI decided against extending Powar’s contract and invited applications for Women team head coach.
4th Dec: T20 captain Harmanpreet and her deputy Mandhana wrote a letter to the BCCI asking the board to stick with Powar as the head coach. They said that he had helped them gain confidence and play attacking brand of cricket.
It is to be seen that what unfolds next. It is true that Raj is a great player and what she has achieved and done to the women game and India, in particular, is noteworthy, but it is equally true that one needs to adapt to the ever-changing game.
On Powar’s part, it is equally true that the team comes first before an individual but one can certainly not disrespect a legend like that by just axing them from an all-important match. Whose side are you on?