The cat, in a proverbial sense, is out of the bag.
When the Mithali Raj-Ramesh Powar fight first came into the open, many on social media were quick to shift the blame onto the coach of the women’s cricket team. They took to posting screenshots of his career numbers and compared them to Raj’s numbers. They took to taking pot shots at his own fitness levels when it emerged that he questioned Raj’s work ethic. They pointed to Raj’s legendary status as compared to Powar’s modest standing.
They did it with the spontaneity that usually comes from deep knowledge about the subject. Only, they didn’t. Yes, perhaps Powar could have handled things in a more professional way; perhaps he could have sought a middle ground; perhaps he shouldn’t have ignored her as he did; perhaps he could have handled things in a more professional manner but it is becoming increasingly clear that he did not act alone.
Everyone in the team – the juniors, the seniors as well as the manager – was privy to what was happening.
On Monday, India’s T20I skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana wrote (Scroll.in has accessed the letters) to the BCCI and asked the Board to allow the Ramesh Powar to continue as the women’s team head coach.
“I am writing to bring it under your notice that how tremendously our team has gone under positive changes in the past few months and has set a benchmark in the world top teams,” Harmanpreet wrote in the letter. “Our defeat in the semi-finals was very disheartening and it brings us all to feel more miserable to see how the controversies has stained our image and questioned the entire cricket fraternity.”
“Ramesh Powar sir not only improved us as players but did motivate us to set targets and challenge our own limits. He has changed the face of Indian women’s cricket team both technically and strategically. He has inculcated in us the sense of winning,” she added.
Now, this is a telling statement. It amongst, many other things, tells us that Powar was good at his job. He earned the trust of the team and brought about positive change – for a majority of the team anyway.
As a coach, was he right to expect more out of Raj? Of course, he was. His primary goal is to make the team better and if he felt a certain individual could do better, he was well within his rights as coach to push her to do better or to even ask her to bat in a different position.
But to most Indians, it didn’t matter whether he was right – his standing was more important.
Now just for a moment take yourself back to when the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble fracas had broken out. The opinion, then, was much more divided.
Kohli – India’s best player without a doubt – was labelled a brat, he was said to be power hungry, he didn’t appreciate a coach who could say ‘no’ to him. But most of all, we (the people of India) felt a sense of indignity simply because he was doing this to Anil Kumble – a man whose reputation as a cricket legend and as an intelligent individual precedes him.
It does make one wonder that if Kumble had been coach of the women’s team during the women’s World T20 and the same controversy had broken out, would India have reacted in the same way? Would we then have at least given him a listen before judging him?
In a sense, Raj did what she did because she has seen others (namely Kohli) get away with it. She reckoned she was too big, and if the Board had to choose between her and Powar, they would side with the former.
And for a while, it seemed like that too. They idly sat by as Powar’s contract ran out, the Board (as it has been very prompt to do during this controversy) had an ‘official’ say that Powar was not coming back but Harmanpreet and Mandhana’s letters have effectively muddied the waters. The young players who are effectively the future of Indian cricket want him back, the old master doesn’t.
The BCCI could still decide not to give him the job, but they should be wary about the kind of message this will send to every individual in the team and to all those watching. The coach is important to a team – maybe not as important as he/she is in football – but it is a vital position. There can be disagreements but to have all of this come out publicly is damaging not only to the player and the coach but the game itself.
A good coach, as had been proved numerous times in the past, does not need to have been a big player. The individual just needs to be someone who understands the game, the players and finds ways to make them better. And that was true of both Kumble and Powar.
The BCCI should be worried about how situations like these will erode the confidence of coaches. Does the Board feel India should only have ‘yes men’ as coaches or can it encourage coaches who want to effect real change to take up the job as well?
The decision is the BCCI’s to make but it will go a long way towards setting what the line of action really is and that is precisely why they should want to think carefully before they make it.