By Elton Gomes
Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian women’s cricket team for Tests and ODIs, was left out of the squad in a crucial semi-final against England in the ICC Women’s World T20. The decision raised several eyebrows as Raj had a great run leading up to the semi-final, which India lost by eight wickets.
A few days after the defeat, Raj lashed out at coach Ramesh Powar and a Committee of Administrators (CoA) member Diana Edulji for being biased towards her. Captain Harmanpreet Kaur’s justification to leave out Raj amounted to nothing, and the issue now seems to be fraught with dressing room politics.
India lose semi-final against England
On November 23, India certainly felt Mithali Raj’s absence after it lost the semi-final of the ICC Women’s World T20. England defeated India by eight wickets, and easily achieved the subpar target of 113.
Several questions were raised whether the outcome would’ve been different if Raj was included in the starting XI. But captain Harmanpreet Kaur defended the decision to keep Raj on the bench.
“Whatever we decided, we decided for the team. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, no regrets,” Kaur said at the post-match presentation, NDTV reported. The decision, however, did not go down well with India’s cricket fans, and several analysts slammed the decision. Regardless of who took the decision, both Kaur and coach Ramesh Powar should’ve avoided experimenting in a crucial semi-final.
Reports suggested that the decision to bench Raj was a collective one and taken after being discussed between captain Harmanpreet Kaur, vice-captain Smriti Mandhana, coach Ramesh Powar, and selector Sudha Shah.
The team management decided to finalise India’s playing XI only “after watching how the wicket behaved in the first semifinal”, especially because the selectors would be attending the game and could help in selecting the right team.
Raj lashes out at Powar, Edulji
Days after the defeat, Mithali Raj accused coach Ramesh Powar of discrimination and bias in a letter addressed to the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India).
Raj further alleged that Powar humiliated her during the World T20 campaign in West Indies. In the letter, she said she was hurt and confused after the decision to bench her in the semi-final was taken.
“My issues with the coach started immediately as we landed in the West Indies. At first there were small signs that his behaviour towards me was unfair and discriminatory but I did not bother much about it. Right from the Sri Lanka tour to Australia A matches I opened the innings and in the World Cup warm up games too I had done the same.
“One day before the game after I came out of the nets, he walked up to me and informed me that he wanted me to bat in the middle order as we needed depth in the middle order against New Zealand. Not having played middle order in recent times and without practice still I agreed for the greater cause of the team.”
Raj then spoke about how Powar ignored her, “For instance, walking off if I am sitting anywhere around, watching in the nets when others bat but choosing to walk away when I am batting in nets, if I try to go up to him to talk to start looking into his phone and keep walking. It was embarrassing and very evident to everyone that I was being humiliated. Yet I never lost my cool,” as per a report in the Hindustan Times.
Raj also accused BCCI Committee of Administrators (CoA) member and former Indian cricketer Diana Edulji of bias after she was dropped for the semi-final against England.
Raj criticised Edulji for defending the decision to drop her. Raj said in her letter to the BCCI, “To put things in perspective, I have always reposed faith in Diana Edulji and have always respected her and her position as a member of the COA [sic]. Never did I think she will use her position against me, more after hearing what all I had to go through in the Caribbean as I had spoken to her about it.
“Her brazen support in the press with regard to the decision of my benching in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup has left me deeply distressed, more because she knows the real facts having spoken to me,” as per an Indian Express report.
Raj add that she had no issues with captain Harmanpreet Kaur and considers her an asset to the Indian team. “I would also like to point out that I have nothing against the T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur except for the fact that her call to support the decision of the coach to leave me out of the eleven was baffling and hurtful.
“As India’s 50 over captain, I value Harman as one of our best players and will always want to ensure that the two of us perform our best for India. I wanted to win the world cup for my country and it hurts me because we lost a golden opportunity,” Raj said in her letter, as per Hindustan Times.
Raj also said she was aware of the risk involved in writing such a letter: “May I say that I am aware that by writing this email I am making myself even more vulnerable.” Referring to Edulji, Raj said, “She is a COA [sic] member while I am just a player.”
“For the record, I scored back to back fifties in the games before the semi-final, was adjudged player of the match on both occasions, to leave me out in the semi-final and go with only three performing batters was a decision that left me baffled as much as it left the whole world,” as per a report in India Today.
Raj’s manager’s comments
Raj’s manager Annisha Gupta blasted captain Harmanpreet Kaur on Twitter for benching Raj. ESPNCricInfo reported that Gupta, in a series of tweets, described Kaur as a “manipulative, lying immature, undeserving captain”.
“Unfortunately @BCCIWomen believes in politics not sport. After witnessing what @M_Raj03 ‘s experience could do in IndvIre [Mithali Raj scored 51 runs against Ireland] it’s shocking that they went with what pleases @ImHarmanpreet -a manipulative, lying, immature, undeserving captain,” Gupta said in her tweet, as per the CricInfo report.
In a telephonic conversation with ESPNCricInfo, Gupta confirmed that the unverified Twitter account from where the tweets were posted belonged to her. Defending her statements, Gupta said that the criticism came “from the right place”. sdfdsfdsf d
“I’d like to say that I don’t know what is going on on the inside but, now that the matches are being telecast, we can see who is performing and who is not,” Gupta told ESPNCricInfo.
What has Ramesh Powar said?
Hitting back at Raj, the Indian women’s cricket team head coach Ramesh Powar accused the Indian captain of causing rifts in the team during the recently concluded World T20 tournament.
In a 10-page report written to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and General Manager of Cricket Operations Saba Karim, Powar accused the Raj of “blackmailing and pressurising coaches”.
“I hope Mithali Raj stops blackmailing, pressurising coaches and also stops putting her interest first than team’s. I hope she will look at the bigger picture & work towards betterment of the Indian women’s cricket,” Powar wrote in his letter, as per an Indian Express report.
Powar alleged that Raj threatened to retire midway through the T20 tournament after she was denied the opening slot. The women’s team coach further accused Raj of throwing tantrums and creating chaos.
Powar said the decision to push her down the order was taken after due consultation with her, but it still created a ruckus. “Before Pakistan match, video analyst Pushkar Sawant came to my room and said that fielding coach Biju George has conveyed to him that Mithali is upset with batting order and packed her bags with announcement of retirement in the morning,” Powar said in his letter, as per a PTI report.
“I was saddened by her attitude and it gave me an impression that Mithali Raj comes first and then India. She threw a lot of tantrums and created a lot of chaos,” Powar said further.
Reactions from other players
Former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar has come out in support of Raj, saying that an experienced player like her experience should not have been benched in a crucial match. Gavaskar said he did not agree with the team management’s reason to drop Raj for a knockout game.
“I feel sorry for Mithali. She has a very good point. She has served Indian cricket for 20 years. She scored runs. she won player of the match in both matches (she played at the World T20),” Gavaskar told India Today.
Gavaskar then spoke about potential outcomes if the same happened in the men’s team. “She was injured for one game but fit for the next game. Just convert this situation into the men’s game. If you had a Virat Kohli who was injured for one game and then is fit for the knockout, will you leave him out? You have to pick your best player for the knockouts. You needed the experience and expertise of Mithali Raj,” he said.
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly also lent his support to Raj, saying that captains being benched is nothing new. “… I have also sat out in the dugout after captaining India. When I saw Mithali Raj being dropped, I said ‘Welcome to the group’,” Ganguly said while addressing a gathering at the Tollygunge Club in Kolkata, India Today reported.
The 35-year-old cricketer from Rajasthan is currently the leading run-scorer in women’s ODIs. In India’s match against Ireland, Raj overtook Virat Kohli and Rahit Sharma to become the highest T20I run-scorer in India. With 6550 runs at an average of 51.17, Raj is way ahead of the pack that includes some big names from women’s cricket.
Raj has served Indian cricket for 20 years and has been known to shoulder the burden of the team single-handedly. In the ICC Women’s World T20, Raj had scored a couple of match-winning fifties in the group stages wherein India looked unstoppable.
Though Raj has managed to amass 575 runs from 22 innings in 2018 at an average of 35.93, her performances in the lead-up to the T20 competition were far from impressive. However, Raj’s experience has immensely helped India, especially against rivals Pakistan. Raj played a noteworthy innings and hit a 47-ball 56, guiding India to a 7-wicket win.
According to reports on Thursday, Raj said she is “deeply saddened” and “hurt” by the negative image that is being projected about her by head coach of the Indian women’s cricket team, Ramesh Powar.
“I’m deeply saddened & hurt by the aspersions cast on me. My commitment to the game & 20yrs of playing for my country.The hard work, sweat, in vain,” Mithali said in a tweet on Thursday.
“Today, my patriotism doubted, my skill set questioned & all the mud slinging- it’s the darkest day of my life. May god give strength.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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