Thursday, November 23, 2018. India took on England in the semi-final of the ICC Women’s World T20 in Antigua. The runners-up of the ODI World Cup taking on the champions 15 months after their Lord’s date that was seen as a turning point for women’s cricket in general, and for the sport in India, in particular. The World T20 semi-final, after an unbeaten run in the group stages, defeating the world No 1 and then-World No 2 sides, was another step in the direction for India. The run of early eliminations from the tournaments in the last three editions was broken.
Thursday, November 29, 2018. A week after that match, you wouldn’t think Indian cricket took a step forward. There’s a distinct lack of positive news surrounding the women in blue who, on the cricket fields in the Caribbean, impressed for the most part. Instead, we are in the midst of an unsavoury saga involving the coach, the captain and the senior-most player in the team.
Also read: Timeline of the Mithali Raj saga — from the World T20 controversy to her spat with Powar
It’s a mess
First, Mithali Raj wrote an email that accused Diana Edulji of bias and coach Ramesh Powar of mistreating her. The details she described were an indication of unprofessional behaviour from Powar — that much is certain, irrespective of whether the Indian think-tank was right or wrong in benching Raj for the semi-final.
And then, on Thursday, details of Powar’s report on the matter emerged where he explained the cricketing reasons for dropping Raj but one has to question the timing of his decision — if the Indian think-tank were looking for a fresh approach in the powerplay, dropping Raj bang in the middle of a world cup, with no clear alternatives available in the squad to execute their plan, wasn’t the most sensible way to go about it.
But Powar then alleges Raj threatened to retire if not allowed to open the batting. That would be abuse of player power from a cricketer who has given it her all to the development of the game in India, no doubt.
Raj, then, responded in a tweet saying this is the darkest day in her life, with her patriotism and skill set being questioned.
At this point, it’s a case of one person’s word against the other. And that’s a terrible position to be in, not knowing who to trust and what really happened.
Step aside, cricketing logic
In all the mud-slinging, cricketing logic has taken a back-seat. But imagine for a second you are in a Vulcan utopia and can ignore the drama in this story, seeing only through the lens of logic. Did Powar and Harmanpreet have sound reasons to decide Raj is perhaps not the best option as the opener? The numbers back that decision, for the most part. But did they have enough batting options in the squad that warranted dropping Raj? It was, at best, a cricketing decision that had the makings of a sensible one but implemented without the best means to execute it.
Either way, there is a cricketing debate to be had there, for sure.
But how many are talking about that now? The focus is all on whether Powar treated Raj disrespectfully or Raj threatened to retire mid-way through the tournament, if not allowed to open. It’s a bitter battle of he-said-she-said with no evidence other than each other’s statements to go on.
And not to forget the role BCCI is playing here in the background, with information trickling to the media as leaks and through anonymous officials. There’s a disturbing sense that a political game is afoot behind the scenes and the Raj-Powar saga is being played out in the public by warring factions in the board. There is no other logical explanation.
We have now heard both versions of the story and in the end, truth be told, no one emerges with any credit. But imagine the impact this has on a Jemimah Rodrigues or a Taniya Bhatia or a Smriti Mandhana. What message is a young team going take from this? Impressionable young cricketers are now witness to a spat that has gone beyond farcical.
Now, we’ll leave you with this. Australia’s former captain and current vice-captain Rachel Haynes was given the option to move up the batting order by her coach and the captain because they felt she was in good touch. When they approached her with the decision, she said she is happy playing a role in the middle order with so many more options for Australia to shine at the top order. And in the semi-finals, when Australia where just about getting to a par score, Haynes — batting after Meg Lanning, who scored a vital 39-ball 31, and before Ellyse Perry — played what could arguably be called the match-turning innings. No big hitting, just finding the boundaries on a difficult pitch with precision cricket when everyone else found the going tough.
From the coach, to the captain, to a senior player — display of professionalism all around.
Compare that to the situation Indian cricket finds itself in. It’s, perhaps, little wonder then, which team went on to lift the trophy and which team has plenty of lessons to learn in how to handle tricky situations within the team.
Women’s cricket in India, at the end, is the real loser.