The last time so much dirty linen was washed in public by an Indian cricket team, Ifthikar Ali Khan Pataudi, father of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, flippantly remarked that it would help his team go to England with clean shirts!
That, of course, was during the pre-Independence era after the senior Pataudi defeated Vijay Merchant in the vote for Indian captaincy.
Luckily Indian cricket has evolved since then and even if there have been controversies and disagreements galore, seldom have they been played out in public like the current nasty spat between coach Ramesh Powar and senior cricketer Mithali Raj.
BCCI in its wisdom had ensured that there were all sorts of gags in place to put a check on mud-slinging and finger-pointing. These were to ensure that spats like the current one didn't turn into media
circuses and damage the image of the team, sport and BCCI.
Thus, the first task for the current disposition would be to find out how so-called private e-mails got leaked. If either Powar or Raj have used someone else's shoulder, like a journalist or PR agency, to fire their salvos they must be severely dealt with. Certainly BCCI would have contractually bound Mithali and Powar to a confidentiality clause and if either or both have consciously broken it they must be made to pay.
The 'he said-she said' set of accusations and counter accusations sound so childish that if the parties step back and view it after a few weeks or months they themselves would be embarrassed at the way they have handled the issue.
According to Mithali's leaked mail, when she was pushed down the order from opening the batting she was told by coach Powar that the move was to increase the team's batting depth.
She was unconvinced and sought selector Sudha Shah's intervention. The latter spoke to the coach and ensured that Mithali opened in the matches against Pakistan and Ireland where she scored crucial back-to-back half-centuries and played a big hand in the victories. However, as per her email, her reaching out to Sudha Shah was to have its repercussions: she claimed that Powar's behaviour towards her changed and he started ignoring her.
She gave a few instances of what she felt were a deliberate slight by the coach and said she approached team manager Bhattacharya to help sort out the issue. Despite a conciliatory meeting where Mithali said Powar admitted his mistake, her troubles with him continued.
"It appeared to me that for him the meeting had hurt his ego," she alleged in her email.
She claimed that she was told by the coach not to come to the ground when she pulled out of the group game against Australia owing to an injured knee. But after the manager gave her permission to go to the ground, the coach is said to have ordered her "not to step out of the dressing room" during the match.
Even after she recovered from injury she said she was made to feel unwanted and on the day of the semi-final was told that she had been dropped only when skipper Harmanpreet Kaur walked out to toss.
"It meant the whole team knew who were playing and it was just me who was not aware," she wrote in her leaked mail to CEO Rahul Johri and general manager (operations) Saba Karim.
Strangely, if Mithali's mail smacked of righteous indignation, Powar's lacked any semblance of maturity.
Coaches are expected to pep up their wards and it is common knowledge that different folks require different strokes to get them going. Handling 15 sportspersons of differing temperament requires some skill. All cricketers don't respond identically to a crisis.
For instance, on one occasion Sunil Gavaskar wanted to concede a Test when he was wrongly adjudged lbw. On another occasion, Sachin Tendulkar was miffed with skipper Rahul Dravid when he declared the innings closed when the former was one stroke short of a double ton. More recently, Mohammed Shami was devastated by personal crisis. But on each occasion, the powers handled the issues deftly and saw through the crisis.
Apparently, Powar has much to learn in handling teams. The charge that Mithali, who has given blood, sweat and tears for the game, would quit the sport on being demoted in the batting order is a bit tough to stomach. Even if there was such a threat the coach ought to have cajoled her and reminded her of the sacrifices she had made to get thus far and to not throw it away on a whim.
Sportspersons are temperamental, insecure and impetuous. It is for the coach to use his player-management skills to get the best out of them.
Charges like she could not field outside the circle or belt the ball are frivolous. Ashish Nehra was never positioned in slips, short leg or cover point. His poor fielding was not used to run him down. Instead the skipper and coach utilised his superior skills in bowling, hid him in the field and made it to work for the team.
Every chosen member brings a particular skill set to the table. The coach and skipper need to amalgamate those to ensure they have a cohesive team. Else, fiascos like the semi-final loss will be the order rather than the exception.
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