Cricket in India was inaccessible to women a few decades ago but active support from various sporting agencies and organizations led to the building of a team that has since been able to reach the finals of World Cups. Our women have had to battle uphill tasks to get to where they are and though they are still not getting the attention they deserve, conditions have gotten a lot better. Recently though, the team has run into hot waters with the management. Here’s a look at what actually went down during the recently concluded Women’s ICC World T20.
The problems have been around for quite some time but officials preferred to sweep them under the rug rather than address them. Tushar Arothe, who was instrumental in helping India reach the final of the women's World Cup in England last July, stepped down from his post following the conclusion of the World Cup. He was also quick to point out that allowing players to dictate the terms when it comes to coaching staff will only prove to be detrimental for the sport. If you start removing coaches merely on the basis of allegations from the players, then you are setting a bad precedent," Arothe told news agencies shortly after his resignation. The 51-year-old was removed from his position after the BCCI received complaints from senior players, such as Harmanpreet Kaur, about his training methodologies and practices. The funny thing is that Arothe was appointed after his predecessor, the Purnima Rau, was sacked by the board; a trend that has set in to the team in the recent years.
Mithila Raj and Purnima Rau (Source- The Hindu)
Purnima Rau had taken charge of the side in 2014, taking over from Anju Jain and was later axed, after a series defeat against Sri Lanka and the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh. Sudha Shah, who herself was sacked in 2010, took over and led the side to a historic Test win in England. But following an ODI series loss against England and a defeat against South Africa, Shah was axed. Rau was recalled to the helm in 2015 and this stint resulted in wins against New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and triumphs at the Asia Cup, and the ICC Qualifiers. This was a golden period for Women’s cricket with a string of 16 consecutive match wins.
However, just ahead of the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, Rau was removed and power was handed over to Arothe who was then sacked in July and replaced by Ramesh Powar, former Indian bowler. Though this trend has been questionable, decent performances at International tournaments had helped to keep the questions at bay, but the surprising and painful loss in the semis against England has let the cat out of the bag this time around.
The problem took a glaring turn when Mithali Raj, India’s highest scorer in the league matches leading up to the semis was dropped for the clash against England. This decision was shocking to all those involved, including Sunil Gavaskar who could not fathom the reason behind such a hasty decision. After the semifinal loss, Mithali Raj made herself clear by penning a two-page letter detailing how Powar had ill-treated her throughout the tournament and requested for necessary action to be taken and addressed this to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and the GM Saba Karim.
Ramesh Powar (Source)
The letter explained how Powar had repeatedly humiliated and insulted Mithali and had also forbade her against appearing in the dugout or speaking to the media until the game was completed. Powar, meanwhile, has refused to be on the back foot about the issue and volleyed back by stating that Raj had been highly uncooperative throughout the tournament and this eventually led to her being dropped from the semis. He claims that Raj threatened to retire if she was not allowed to open the innings for India while the team felt that her game wasn’t explosive enough to make full use of the power play advantage.
The team wanted to place Raj in the middle order and hence strengthen it and in the meanwhile give the chance to open to someone with a higher strike rate so that they could capitalize on the limited fielders advantage that power plays provide. Though Mithali agreed initially, she later requested to be shifted higher up the order and threatened to quit playing if her demands were not met.
From the outside it looks like two huge egos locking horns. An important yet ageing stalwart refuses to change her game style, while a new and ambitious coach refuses to give her the space she needs to evolve. Two huge egos in play which led to two hurt mindsets and which in turn hurt the entire team and their chances to finally lift a WC trophy.
“I hope Mithali Raj stops blackmailing, pressurising coaches and putting her interest first than the team's," wrote Powar. Mithali was quick to hit back on Twitter through the following tweet; “My commitment to the game and 20 years of playing for my country, the hard work, sweat, in vain. Today, my patriotism doubted, my skill set questioned and all the mud slinging- it's the darkest day of my life. May god give strength.”
Now that the can of worms have been opened, let’s hope the BCCI makes a stand that benefits not just individual players but Indian cricket as a whole.
By Athulya Mohandas