Mithali Raj controversy: BCCI erred in handling of matter and it doesn't augur well for Indian cricket

  • Vedam Jaishankar
  • November 28th, 2018
  • 11:10:55 IST

Women's cricket has never had it so good. It is being discussed, debated and dissected with a vehemence that was unheard of in the many decades of its existence. Sadly, it took a leaked letter to trigger this sort of media attention.

Before there is any undue haste in passing judgment on the contents of Mithali Raj's letter to CEO, BCCI and general manager (operations), it must be pointed out this is not the first time that a senior player kept out of the playing eleven has let off steam.

File picture of Mithali Raj. ICC

File picture of Mithali Raj. ICC

Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is now in the eye of the storm for all the wrong reasons, was probably the first Indian cricketer to abandon a cricket tour after being dropped from the playing eleven. That ditching of the team was a far more serious offence than Mithali shooting off a letter. But more of that later. Instead, it would be interesting to see how BCCI of yore handled one of the biggest crises in Indian cricket.

Sidhu was dropped after two ODIs in England but claimed that he was not informed about it. He was padding up during the third ODI when sniggering from the skipper and teammates got his goat. He claimed that he was then told that he was not in the playing eleven.

A livid Sidhu claimed that he had been constantly belittled and humiliated by skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. His reaction to the 'taunts' was to abandon the team. This act of his severely dented the team's morale and strength, especially as the Test series was to start in a few days time and the team had only rookies Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly as back up.

Tour manager C Nagaraj and coach Sandip Patil felt that the services of the experienced Test batsman was needed on that tough 1996 tour of England and tried to persuade him to change his mind. BCCI president IS Bindra too spoke over phone for six hours in a bid to get Sidhu to stay put.

But Sidhu said he would never compromise with his self-respect and announced his retirement from the game. Of course, he was to change his mind in India. By then Bindra had asked him to lie low and not speak to the media.

An inquiry committee comprising Rajsingh Dungarpur, Sunil Gavaskar and JY Lele was formed and it asked Sidhu to show cause why he should not be disciplined for his walkout. Sidhu merely replied that the mistake was his and hence he was prepared to abide by whatever decision the board took. He, however, would not reveal why he felt the skipper had humiliated him.

The board, in an effort to get to the bottom of the issue, formed another committee of Dungarpur, Bindra and Gavaskar, with Lele as convenor. But midway they replaced Gavaskar with Mohinder Amarnath.

With that inquiry too heading nowhere, Mohinder attempted to make a last ditch effort. He took Sidhu out of the committee room and with an arm around his shoulder went for a walk with the Punjab cricketer.

The duo returned after 30 minutes where upon a laughing Mohinder asked the committee to drop all charges and reinstate Sidhu. He said it was a misunderstanding as Azharuddin was using Hyderabadi terms of endearment which the Punjabi Sidhu mistook for abuses. Thus, Sidhu returned to the Indian team, though his ditching the team and plunging it into crisis were glossed over.
Contrast this restrained and sensitive handling of a grave issue with the manner in which l'affaire Mithali was handled.

While the erstwhile BCCI eco-system of president, secretary, past president, senior members, retired senior players and Sidhu himself worked towards amicably solving a momentary lapse of misunderstanding, anger and frustration, the current dispensation seems to have done exactly the opposite.

How did Mithali's letter get leaked to the media? Why did CoA member Diana Edulji air her views supporting the dropping of the player and then reportedly add that "selection is not the CoA's headache"? It was the most inopportune time to express her views. Could she not have shown greater maturity and sensitivity considering that she was holding an important post in the set-up? Did she not realise that with great power comes great responsibility?

Her shooting her mouth off in the first place was a huge error and it was compounded by the folks who facilitated the leaking of Mithali's letter.

Was it done to embarrass Edulji?

Actually it does not matter. Edulji should have held her horses just like BCCI officials did during the Sidhu episode. But she chose to stir the pot and must now grapple with the consequences. There is no denying that the episode has shown her in poor light.

Mithali is a sportsman, not a politician and hence she could be less than guarded at times. She might have let off steam to vent anger, frustration and humiliation at being dropped despite performing satisfactorily in earlier matches. Whether the issue of writing a mail in protest is right or wrong does not matter. What does matter is that Indian cricket is not in safe hands.

The game is being used to settle scores. This simply does not augur well for the image of BCCI or Indian cricket. The sooner all parties take a step back and introspect their role in the fiasco the better for the good of the game. In the meantime, don't hang Mithali. She has every right to feel let down. Get to the bottom of her grouse and solve it with the wisdom expected.

Updated Date: November 28, 2018 11:10:55 IST

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