Mithali Raj was left out of the Indian XI for the semi-final against England in the Women's World T20, but was it really a decision that was justified?
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 not right to take that call on selection. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.
It's been a couple of days since the Women's World T20 came to an end, with India having dished out a series of clinical performances in each of the league matches before getting outplayed by England in the semi-final.
However, the controversy surrounding the decision to drop star batter and the ODI captain Mithali Raj from the playing XI in the semi-final continues to make headlines, and received a fresh twist on Tuesday with Raj slamming coach Ramesh Powar and CoA member Diana Edulji for discrimination and bias.
Raj injured her knee while fielding during the game against Ireland, and was forced to walk off the field as a result. While the injury kept her out of the subsequent Group B fixture against Australia as well, she had recovered from the niggle in time for the semis.
Harmanpreet however, raised several eyebrows at the toss on Thursday when she announced an unchanged side for the semi-final, leaving the veteran of 197 ODIs and 85 T20Is out of the equation. While captains and coaches have various reasons for dropping a certain player given the conditions, the opposition makeup as well as the player's current form, and sometimes such decisions can be viewed as a bold gamble that could go on to have a positive impact on the team's performances.
Raj, however, had been going through a purple patch with the bat, having hit back-to-back half-centuries against Pakistan and Ireland respectively. And the decision to leave out an in-form player in a match as crucial as the semi-final usually defies cricketing logic.
Harmanpreet justified the decision by stating that the Indians wanted to maintain the winning combination from their fixture against Australia. However, the question that should be raised at team management is that if maintaining a winning combination at cost of dropping an experienced campaigner, a right decision?
One look at Raj's numbers with the bat this year, and the statistics will paint a picture of a batter in fine touch. The Jodhpur-born cricketer is fifth in the list of run-getters in women's T20Is in 2018 with 575 runs to her credit, and might have moved past the prolific Alyssa Healy (578) and even Smriti Mandhana (622) in the 2018 rankings had the team made a better decision in the semi-final.
With seven half-centuries, two of which were collected off back-to-back innings' in the World T20, Raj's position in the batting unit, especially at the top of the order, should not have been questioned in the first place. The manner in which Raj had anchored the innings against Ireland, India needed a similar calming influence at the crease when wickets were tumbling like nine pins at Antigua.
And it's not just the bat with which she stands out — her tactical inputs, having led the team and shaped women's cricket in India for years — cannot be discounted either.
As pointed out by Raj in her letter, her fallout with Powar after landing in the Caribbean is an unfortunate episode indeed. That would have had some impact on the atmosphere inside the dressing room. Differences crop up in the best of teams, and among the best of individuals, and the Indian women's cricket team is no different in this regard.
Who can forget the ugliness of the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly, Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble sagas that are now major blots in the annals of Indian cricket? It is when politics starts affecting selection, often at the expense of the team, that things start veering in the negative direction.
While the episode isn't expected to die down anytime soon, especially if the coach in question decides to make a statement or two, it would be in the welfare of women's cricket in India for the parties involved to move on from the issue as quickly as possible. Powar's influence on India women's cricket so far has largely been rated as positive, and Raj continues to remain an integral member of the Indian lineup.
Putting personal differences aside and keeping the team's interests above else is what makes for a positive culture, and is what women's cricket needs if they are to continue growing by leaps and bounds.
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