Mithali Raj, who has been at the centre of a brewing controversy in Indian women’s cricket, broke her silence on Tuesday when she wrote an explosive email to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and Cricket Operations GM Saba Karim outlining her version of what had happened in West Indies. The letter subsequently found its way to the media and painted a grim picture of proceedings in the Indian dressing room.
She singled out Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators member Diana Edulji and national coach Ramash Powar for dropping her from the team in the eight-wicket loss to England, accusing them of bias and humiliation.
Here’s a look at the major issues detailed in the letter and what it means for Indian cricket.
Complete breakdown of communication
The most damning part of Raj’s letter is the complete lack of communication and co-ordination within the team at what is one of the biggest tournaments for the team. If the incidents mentioned happened exactly as narrated, it means the captain Harmanpreet did not talk to her predecessor at all. She didn’t inform Raj about her being pushed to the middle order in the first match or that she would not be playing the semi-final. In fact, Raj states that she was told she was dropped minutes before toss. While Harman backed her call after the match, it is imperative for the captain to convey that to her team, and do it well in advance.
Having said that, there is also an inclination of something deeper at play, almost a case of political chess.
In the letter, Raj states that she had to approach the selectors to intervene on her behalf with Powar over batting in the middle order against Pakistan (where she went on to open and score a match-winning fifty) and then involve the manager when the coach repeatedly ignored her.
If the progression of times is true, it seems like the semi-final exclusion was designed to be a last-minute call. The last time, she had brought in the selectors to change the coach’s proposed game plan and maybe the Indian think-tank didn’t want Raj to have another opportunity to do this by telling her that she was dropped in advance.
Either way, the decision to not keep her in loop about the team, and the allegations of Powar ignoring her in the nets and not giving her time to practice, reflect poorly on him. Irrespective of personal issues, a coach cannot treat a player with about 20 years of experience in this manner.
A house divided cannot stand and if there is such a communication gap between the captain and the most senior player during a major world event, the team morale was sure to be affected, behind the scenes.
The shock Asia Cup loss to Bangladesh and the subsequent sacking of coach Tushar Arothe should have been a lesson: the team members and management need to be on the same page for them to perform consistently. But it appears that the Indian women’s team fell prey to miscommunication and resultant mistrust, which if not properly addressed, could have far-reaching consequences.
Raj wants a clean slate with Harmanpreet
Perhaps the most stirring part of the letter is how she had addressed the situation with T20 captain Harmanpreet. This was a delicate topic given how Raj’s former manager had gone on a rant against Harman on Twitter calling her a “manipulative, lying, immature, undeserving captain” in the now-deleted post.
There has also been a lot of chatter on a supposed rift between the ODI and T20I captain, and seniors and juniors in the team. But by expressly stating that she has no problem with her T20I counterpart other than the selection call and that she wants to talk it out over a table, Raj is not only clearing the air, but also suggesting a clean slate for the two seniors to begin afresh.
There certainly seems to be bad blood because of both the Twitter rant and how the whole situation has been handled. The two had reportedly met the BCCI officials on Monday separately and there is little evidence to suggest they have spoken about this issue either in West Indies or since.
This would not be the first time that Harmanpreet has indicated that Raj does not fit into the T20 scheme of things in all matches, due to her Powerplay strike rate and fielding.
However, the duo form the core of the middle order in ODIs and it is important for them to be on the same page from here on. This one incident cannot be the reason for a fracture in the team dynamics and Raj seems to recognize that. One hopes that the two biggest names in women’s cricket can sort out whatever differences there are soon.
Raj is confident she will continue as the ODI captain
Which brings us to the part where Raj has at least put one speculation to bed: she has no intention to call it quits.
There was a lot of speculation on what next for Mithali Raj and whether her position in the team had become untenable. Questions were raised over the 35-year-old’s future in the team and rumours of retirement had already begun to do the rounds.
While the incident in West Indies all but signaled the end of the road in the shortest format, the 50-over format was always going to be a different story. In ODIs, Raj is the captain and the highest run-getter in international cricket. India played several T20Is this year as preparation for the World T20 , but with that done, the focus will be back on ODIs and the ICC Women’s Championship when India next play in New Zealand in January.
While Raj may or may not carry on till the next World Cup in 2021, she is still very much an integral part of the set up apart from being the most consistent scorer. The letter clearly indicates that she intends to continue in the 50-over format and is confident that the dual-captaincy model will be adhered to. Of course, that is a call for the selectors to make when they meet to pick the team for the New Zealand tour.
Powar looks unlikely to get a contract extension
There are two ways to look at this: Powar is getting what he had coming for how he handled the situation or that he is collateral damage. Either way, Powar seems unlikely to continue as his tenure as coach is only till the end of this month.
One reason for his short-term contract was that the Supreme Court’s verdict that said that the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), consisting of former international cricketers, must be involved in the appointment of the head coach of national teams and right now, there is no clarity on the constitution of the existing CAC.
However, there was a chance for him to reapply when new applications were called. But given the accusations outlined against him, it seems unlikely that he will continue. Especially if Raj continues to captain the ODI team as the situation between them is clearly untenable. This, despite Mandhana and Kaur singling out Powar for special praise on various occasions during the World T20.
Edulji’s role in BCCI
However, a curious angle here is the role of Diana Edulji. Raj has lashed out heavily against the former Indian captain and all but said that the current CoA member backed Powar despite knowing how he had supposedly treated Raj.
There is more speculation that this letter is also a move against Edulji by parties other than Raj, who in her tenure in the CoA is said to have ruffled many feathers. There are suggestions that the letter only was sent after Raj met Johri and Karim and then leaked to the media for a specific reason. If there is indeed another, politically-motivated angle to this, it will be interesting to see what her response and subsequent role will be. Given Edulji’s long association with women’s cricket and role in the Supreme Court appointed committee, her response to this accusation assumes even more importance in the coming days.