Editor's Note: Less than a week after Indian women's ODI captain Mithali Raj was dropped from the Indian XI that played the Women's World T20 semi-final against England, she questioned her exclusion, also accusing coach Ramesh Powar and CoA member Diana Edulji of bias. As the debate rages on whether Mithali Raj should have been dropped or not, Firstpost analyses why team management was right to take that call on selection. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.
Mithali Raj and coach Ramesh Powar’s meltdown is messier than many famous coach-player skirmishes in Indian cricket. It is messier than Greg Chappell’s runs-in with Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman – most of which have found expression in autobiographies.
It is also worse than Virat Kohli’s irreconcilable breakdown with coach Anil Kumble that led to the latter’s exit without his contract being extended despite the Cricket Advisory Committee members backing their erstwhile team-mate for the job.
It probably caught more attention than mercurial Lala Amarnath’s infamous fall-out with the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram in England in 1936. Or, Navjot Sidhu’s decision to return home for the tour of England six decades later. These matters were dealt with by the Board with great care, its officials ensuring that the ruffled feathers were smoothened back.
The iconic Mithali Raj was left out of the playing XI in the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 semi-final against England and that decision sparked an outrage even before the Indian team lost that match quite tamely. Simply stated, it was a decision that did not appear to work in the tour selectors’ favour.
Yet, there is a clear line between judging whether the tour selectors – captain, vice-captain, coach, the selector on tour with the team and the manager – have the right to pick a playing XI or not and if they made the right choice. We must resist the desire to debate the latter without first spending time on the tour selectors’ prerogative.
On the basis of information made available in public domain by inconsiderate Board officials, it is apparent that Mithali Raj has been given more than sufficient reason by Ramesh Powar to believe that he had an issue with her, making her feel unwanted. To her credit, Mithali Raj did not make any of her angst public, choosing to express herself when asked to by BCCI officials.
It is one of Indian cricket’s greatest travesties that her letter to two Board executives found its way in public domain on Tuesday. It would not surprise anyone if all cricketers and coaches are more than wary of their communication being shared so brazenly with the public via chosen media outlets. It will not be just Mithali Raj who would be shaken by the ‘leak’.
Of course, things would not have come to such a pass had the tour selectors not sought to justify the decision to leave her out by sharing some irrelevant statistics around the number of dot balls she played in the warm-up games. For that matter, it would not have been as messy had the officials not asked for skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and Mitjali to meet them – and in a very public manner.
It needed clear communications between the coach and the player for the issue to be doused at the earliest. Mithali Raj, more than anyone, will know that it is the captain and coach who call the shots and someone or the other in the squad is bound to sit out of each game. All she was looking for is proper communication, seeking dignity and respect that every player in the team deserves.
Such an issue is as old as the game itself, if not the hills? Not really. It is a recent phenomenon, coinciding with the concept of a head coach being introduced to cricket teams. Earlier, it was the captain and the vice-captain who would sit in judgement about players who would make it to the XI. They would take credit for decisions that turned out productive and flak for those that did not.
Even if this has overtaken the basic issue of the tour selectors making a big decision, we have to concede that it is entirely their prerogative. And everyone else can only respond to that decision in whatever fashion they perceive the decision. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that it was a choice that seemed to have backfired on the team.
Yet, it should not be a matter of debate if the tour selectors cannot leave a senior cricketer out of the playing XI. From Anil Kumble to Virender Sehwag, from Sourav Ganguly to Rahul Dravid, players have been ‘rested’, a euphemism for dropped, from the XIs. It is not the first time a senior player has been left out of a big game. Nor will it be the last time.
Those who question the captain and coach’s right to make such a choice are ignoring the fact that cricket is a game that leaves itself open to such debate. If a decision works in the manner the team management expects, everyone will appreciate it. Yet, such choices are double edged swords than can leave the selectors red-faced with embarrassment.
This is what everyone who questions the right of the team management to make decisions must realise. The nature of the sport is such that the buck stops with the tour selectors, essentially the captain and the coach who wield authority. It is quite preposterous that they should have to justify their cricketing decisions to anyone.
Fans and connoisseurs alike can criticise the decision to drop an iconic player from the XI in a big game but there should be no doubt that they have the right to make such a decision, even if it means they put their necks on the chopping block. It is a right that comes along with the responsibility imposed on the decision makers.