Ramesh Powar deserves credit for making a difference despite unceremonious exit after controversy with Mithali Raj

  • Sidhanta Patnaik
  • December 3rd, 2018
  • 10:20:38 IST

Veda Krishnamurthy: "The best part about Ramesh is that he is getting everyone to talk. Communication has improved...which wasn't the case earlier."

Smriti Mandhana: "It was a mental switch. Technically we have some of the best players in the world but mentally somehow we were not able to be as aggressive as needed. I think our new coach Ramesh Powar has had a big role to play."

Jemimah Rodrigues: "Ramesh sir helped me a lot with a technical improvement…he backed me a lot. He has made a huge impact in terms of mental side of things. He has basically encouraged us to dominate which has helped."

Ekta Bisht: "It's a blessing for bowlers to have him because for a long time we have felt there should be a bowling coach and now our head coach is a top bowler."

File image of Ramesh Powar. Image courtesy: Twitter @imrameshpowar

File image of Ramesh Powar. Image courtesy: Twitter @imrameshpowar

While Veda spoke about Ramesh Powar to ESPNcricinfo, Mandhana, Rodrigues and Bisht shared their views at the Aaj Tak Mumbai Manthan - all in October just before India's departure to the Caribbean for the World T20. It epitomised the impact Powar had made two months into his three-month contract as India's coach.

For the first time in recent memory players of the Indian women's team were publicly acknowledging the coach's role in the overall development of their game. It looked like a complicated puzzle had finally been solved.

Powar was eligible for a 12-month extension of his contract based on favourable evaluation by BCCI. It is now known that Powar may not get an extension after his differences with Mithali Raj culminating in her not featuring in the playing XI in the eight-wicket loss against England in the World T20 semifinal became public through a series of leaked emails and ballooned into a major controversy.

In his report to Rahul Johri and Saba Karim, BCCI's CEO and GM respectively, Powar has shown interest to extend his association as the ending line of his report - "looking forward to work with BCCI again" - suggests, but the board has called for eligible candidates to apply for the vacant role by 14 December. The chosen one will be given a two-year contract, with the tour of New Zealand starting on January 24 next year being his or her first assignment.

If Powar doesn't continue then India will have their fourth coach in 19 months after Purnima Rau was sacked just before the 2017 World Cup, and Tushar Arothe resigned citing "personal reasons" very early into his two-year contract after the T20 Asia Cup loss against Bangladesh earlier this year. This is not a new trend in Indian cricket.

Sudha Shah conducted the camps ahead of 2000 World Cup, but Sreerupa Bose, the supposed manager, had taken over as coach by the time the team landed in New Zealand. Sudha then was replaced by KVP Rao as coach a month before the 2010 World T20. Rau was brought after the 2013 World Cup defeat, but Sudha toured to England in 2014. She was again replaced by Rau ahead of the 2015 home series against New Zealand.

This game of roulette raises bigger questions. Is there a vision in place? What exactly is the coach's role in an international team? Do players want the coach to agree to everything or does the support staff have the freedom and authority to question their thoughts and push them to new territories? Should differential viewpoints on crucial matters be encouraged or not? Should the players have the final say on coach selection or is it the board's prerogative to give direction to the team? The Indian team, clearly, has not found answers to these questions collectively over the last decade, resulting in this mess.

A patch-up between Powar and Mithali, the ODI captain, could be a solution. But it will be really difficult for the duo to co-exist in the same setup anymore and in cricket usually the coach gets the axe. Powar's potential departure allows players a honest chance to look into the mirror and introspect. Do they want to be a part of the dressing room that has no continuity and live in denial as long their place is secured or do they really want to change the culture of the Indian team by keeping differences aside for a common goal? It's time for real leaders to emerge and take charge of the script.

Easier said than done considering the young players starting to make a mark will find it difficult to surrender to anyone, aware that everything could change within months. Like in the past, there will no more open appreciation of the coach's role.

There are suggestions that BCCI is keen on having a coach of higher credibility than Powar. The board is apparently also open to the idea of having the first foreign coach. They will find more loopholes in the dressing room than Powar did in three months. Will they then be pushed to a corner if some players raise concerns regarding their coaching style or will the board stand by its choice?

Powar had not coached any team earlier, but was the first Test cricketer since Lala Amarnath in 1970s to be the head coach of the women's team. It carries some weightage in the context. Maybe, his man-management skills, especially while dealing with seniors, could have been better, but to judge him based on one sour relationship is unjustified when India lost only two out of their 13 ODIs and T20Is in his tenure along with India A's whitewash over Australia A in the three T20s.

The 18-year-old Rodrigues, who spent the entire Asia Cup on the bench, regained belief to top the batting charts in the T20I series in Sri Lanka with 191 runs at an average of 63.66 and a strike-rate of 155.28. Deepti Sharma once again became her own self when it seemed like she was slipping into a defensive mindset after a brilliant 2017. Taniya Bhatia became the first Indian wicket-keeper since Karuna Jain in 2013 to score an ODI fifty, Poonam Yadav developed into a better leg-spinner on her way to be the highest wicket-taker in T20Is in a calendar year, and Harmanpreet Kaur was flexible with her batting position. Similarly, D Hemalatha, Arundhati Reddy and Radha Yadav grew in confidence.

Powar's desire to make a difference by bringing in certain changes was evident. Maybe, he could have waited till the end of World T20, but then again a short-term contract must have forced him to pick up his pace. He had his issues as Mithali's email to the board suggests, but he deserves some credit for the positive intent shown in a small time frame.

India's new nucleus is getting formed and these youngsters could build on his thought process in the future. Maybe they will look back then with fondness to a time when Powar unlocked their minds. After all, Greg Chappell - that perceived villain of Indian cricket - first spotted a future leader in MS Dhoni.

Updated Date: December 03, 2018 10:20:38 IST

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