Women’s cricket takes a hit

Coach-player stand-offs aren’t a new phenomenon in sports, and Indian cricket hasn’t been an exception to this. Some end in a dignified manner, some others degenerate into ugly public confrontations. The controversy involving woman cricketer Mithali Raj and the team’s former coach Ramesh Powar falls into the latter category. The debatable exclusion of Mithali from the Women’s World20 semi-final against England and India’s stunning batting collapse gave way to all-round criticism of the move. The argument being that Mithali’s experience and calmness would have helped India stem the implosion. To buttress their point, the critics point to Mithali’s innings of 56 and 51 against Pakistan and Ireland, respectively, in the group stage, performances that won her back-to-back woman of the match awards. Now, the team management — which consists of the coach, captain, vice-captain, team manager and selector on tour — is entitled to pick the team of its preference. While the decision itself is not beyond criticism, a player, notwithstanding his or her status, should respect it. And Mithali, who is also the ODI skipper, should have known better than to put her grievances on record.  

Mithali, in her letter to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and BCCI General Manager (cricket operations) Saba Karim, accused Powar of bias and disrespect. Powar, in turn, in his report, complained that Mithali was selfish and put herself ahead of the team, while also adding that the cricketer had threatened to retire when denied the opening position in the playing eleven. In this no-holds-barred attack, neither Mithali nor Powar have emerged unscathed. It has put Indian women’s cricket in a poor light on the international stage.

The BCCI, too, did not cover itself in glory by allowing the issue to snowball into the major, public controversy that it has become. While it did invite the persons concerned for talks, in a half-hearted attempt to get to the root of the problem, the leaking of letters by Mithali and Powar only precipitated the drama. The disturbing development also reflects lack of leadership in cricket’s richest board, where its Supreme Court-appointed administrators have been at loggerheads with each other for sometime now. The allegations from both sides are serious and need to be probed to fix the vexed issue. While the fact that Powar’s coaching contract ended with the end of the World T20 will perhaps solve half the problem, the BCCI must ensure that the other half is also solved to the satisfaction of all. After all, the fragile relationship between two of the important team members — T20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and ODI captain Mithali — cannot be allowed to impact the dressing room atmosphere in a negative way. 

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