The controversy over Mithali Raj’s exclusion from the World T20 semi-final against England and subsequent fall-out with coach Ramesh Powar and Committee of Administrators Diana Edulji took another turn on Thursday when Powar revealed his side of the story.
In a report submitted to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and GM (Cricket Operations) Saba Karim, Powar’s version of events presented a starkly different picture to that mentioned by Raj. The veteran had sent an email to the same officials, detailing the “humiliating” treatment meted out to her during the tournament in West Indies. Like the email on Tuesday, the report also found its way to the media, bringing the rift into the public domain.
While Raj said that the coach had repeatedly ignored her and she wasn’t informed about her exclusion, Powar has accused the veteran of having a poor attitude, blackmailing the team and playing for her personal milestone.
The report, which was accessed by Scroll.in, features notes about the overall tournament, other players and the conditions in West Indies, with one of the most important cricketing points being the need for a mental trainer.
However, the section on “player by player observations” is largely focussed on Raj and her supposed transgressions, with only a few sentences about the rest of the team. In fact, in the tournament report which is over 2500 words long, more than 1500 words are about Raj and her behaviour.
Here are the excerpts from the report that talk about Raj. (The portion has been edited only for language)
Mithali Raj – a senior player in the team. Minimum inputs in team meetings not a single word of appreciation after finishing at the top of the table.
Could not understand & adapt to team plan. Ignored her role and batted for own milestones. Lack of keeping the momentum going which was putting extra pressure on other batters. Worked really hard as a coach to address her power hitting, batting skills and running between the wickets in almost every session.
In practice games, she was struggling to score quickly, as wickets were low bounce & slow. Intent was missing. Could not lean and execute shots due to limited ability in skills & fitness.
We wanted to make most of Powerplay as Power play was most important phase of the match (considering slow pitches) to score big with hard ball & it was challenge to score against spinners.
It was conveyed to her logically that she will be batting in middle order & she agreed too. (before New Zealand match)
Mithali’s lack of intent to score quickly in practice games prompted us to open with Taniya Bhatiya (in first league game vs New Zealand) who always shown intent every time she batted. We used Taniya and Hemlatha in powerplay vs New Zealand which got us 24 runs in 13 balls. It’s not always about individual milestones, it’s always about team strategies and executions. (team first)
After New Zealand game we had a practice session where Mithali was showing anger and attitude, which was disappointing.
In selection meeting where we picked 11 for Pakistan match, instead of appreciating effort of the team against New Zealand selector asked us why Mithali is not opening where I gave the explanation of making most of powerplay and if needed Mithali can bat in middle/lower order. On which selector said that she can only open or can’t figure in the team. We as team management convinced her that she is a key player and we will use her experience as and when needed. Lot of young players look at her as role model and dropping her will hamper team environment.
Before Pakistan match video analyst Mr Pushkar Sawant came to my room with the news that fielding coach Mr Biju George conveyed to him that Mithali is upset about not changing the batting order & not allowing her to open in Pakistan match. She has packed her bags to leave with announcement of retirement in the morning. I was shell shocked to understand why? Team had just beaten one of the top teams (New Zealand) and Mithali Raj a legend is still complaining about her batting position (which she agreed upon) & threatening to leave. (instead, should be happy with the positive start of world cup campaign of team India)
I was saddened and baffled by her attitude. It gave me an impression that for Mithali Raj she comes first and then team India. I called team manager early in the morning and discussed the issue. I did not convey this to captain and vice-captain as I don’t want them to lose their focus of most important match, India vs Pakistan of the group stages. During breakfast on match day, I told Harman & Smriti that we will open with Mithali and they agreed. Conveyed Mithali also about her opening the innings against Pakistan.
Against Pakistan, to save the positive team environment, we opened with Mithali Raj due to pressure from travelling selector and Mithali’s threatening behaviour (retirement) to go back home if not given a chance to open the innings.
Against Pakistan, chasing 134 with 10 runs head start 6 overs we were 48 for no loss. From 6 the over till 15 the over Mithali played 24 balls and scored only 25 runs (no intent to score fast) which hurt us in net run rate. Whole team specially batting unit was confused & angry as what she was trying to achieve by scoring fifty and not sticking to team plan. (dominance)
After Pakistan game she was moving around with an attitude. Making her own group with selected few players sitting away from the team. As a head coach, I was very disappointed & saddened to see legend like her dividing a team in two groups.
After Pakistan match Mithali asked for a meeting with me through team manager Trupti Bhattacharya which I obliged. She conveyed that she is not very good player for this format compare to one-day format where I convinced her that she is most experience player in the team and can adapt easily as she had scored a good hundred vs Sri Lanka, batting in the middle order in ODI series. (which reminded me she (captain) did not take the field for first 11 0vers due to fatigue after batting & we lost the match as all bowling plans were known to her which she did not share with vice-captain Harmanpreet due to her sour relationship) she agreed to bat in middle order after hearing team plan from me.
Still, we wanted to give her one more opportunity to prove her ability as opening batter vs Ireland to execute the team strategies that is to bat with intent (dominance) but against weak Ireland bowling attack she scored run a ball 50 (56 balls 51 runs) and played 25 dots which added extra pressure & cost us Smriti, Jemimah’s wicket & net run rate.
She again questioned batting plan of dominance after the match.
After Ireland game, as a senior player shown no interest to consult with team management to play or rest in very important game vs Australia.
Physio informed us that she is not available for selection due to mild fever & minor injury to knee, which she got recovered in one day (quite strange).
As a coach I asked her to take rest in hotel so she can get better & recover quickly but she did not listen and came to the ground for Australia match, which was surprising.
As we finished last league match in Guyana, we called team members including support staff on to the ground to thank & appreciate Indian people, who were in attendance. Mithali was reluctant to come down.
After reaching Antigua for semi-finals, I had created 2 groups for low intensity practice session with 1 set group consisting 5 players for batting skills specifics and another group for warm up, team game & fielding.
Mithali was in 2nd group but she wanted to come with us in first group. I requested her to come with 2nd group do warm up and skip the team game and come for the batting skills with practice bowlers as everyone was involved in team game. (she was supposed to do fielding with team after batting which she did not) I stayed and watched her bat for 10 mins and went in the ground to check how is session going inside the stadium. Mr Vikas Pandit was there to supervise her session. I came back with physio to watch her bat again. After finishing batting in net physio and me asked how she is feeling as it was her first net session after a break. She responded with nod as if our question does not matter to her.
A day before semi-final as I walked towards breakfast area, team manager Mrs. Trupti Bhattacharya wanted to speak with me, which I obliged. She looked very tense.
As per team manager’s words, she received abusive and threatening call from a person called Nusheen (former player) stating that what you were doing with Mithali as she cried whole night and her mother is worried. Nusheen also threatened that you all will face consequences.
In panic, team manager took physio to her room to check on her. As described by team manager Mithali wanted to go back home as she was very upset that coach is not looking after a legend player like her.
She threw lot of tantrums and created chaos. Team manager and physio tried their best to calm her.
Once hearing all this from Mithali, team manager came to me and described the whole episode, we immediately called Mr Saba Karim (gm , cricket operations, BCCI) and informed the matter. Saba sir told us to sort the matter out amicably. Saba sir also told us to concentrate on crucial and important world cup semi-final match.
Within some time Mithali Raj shot a message on team manager’s phone that she does not want to speak with coach.
Her irresponsible behaviour took my time away as I was supposed to speak with few players regarding preparations of all important semi-final match, which could not happen.
As I needed to prepare team meeting notes, I took a leave.
Mr Biju George (fielding coach) gave feedback that Mithali Raj was not interested in fielding drills with intensity which is hampering intensity and rhythm of the fielding session. He tried to convince her every time but she did not improve.in matches she could not field outside circle or at any important positions due to poor agility and limited fielding skills.
I hope Mithali Raj stops blackmailing, pressurising coaches & also stops putting her interest ahead of the team’s.
I hope she will look at the bigger picture & work towards betterment of the Indian women’s cricket.