Prof. Ravi Chaturvedi
Ever since Test cricket commenced on March 15, 1877, controversies have been galore. However, the latest witnessed before India England 2018 Women’s World Cup semi-final at Antigua witnessed a bizarre spectacle where the senior most, the most prolificand the most consistent batter Mithali Raj was axed from the playing eleven in the crucial encounter vs. England. The dropping of a seasoned player proved suicidal. India’s eight wicket defeat was a big shock and a bitter pill to swallow for the Indian cricket lovers.
The questionable decision of the management of the Indian women team’s to drop their veteran player Mithali Raj for their semi-final against England on Thursday has sparked anger among the cricket crazy followers of the willow game in the country. It started with Raj’s manager Annisha Gupta criticizing captain HarmanpreetKaur, she called Harmanpreet a “manipulative, lying, immature, undeserving captain” and also said the women’s team believed in “politics not sport”. Her agony went far and rightly added, “And we can see the kind of treatment that Mithali has received despite her brilliant performance and despite showing stability and consistency. The kind of treatment she has received is completely uncalled for and there is something deeper.”
.The India team management took a suicidal decision to drop Raj in the mini-final of the World T20 even though she had recovered from knee injury after missing their last league game against Australia. Raj’s contribution provided solidity to the Indian batting as she had scored back-to-back half-centuries against Ireland and Pakistan. What followed was a natural corollary against England, India collapsed from 89 for 2 to 112 all out, without their leading T20I scorer and most experienced player in their ranks.
In the coming days, Ramesh Pawar, manager of the Indian team will have lot to explain on Raj’s deletion from the team in an all-important game. It seems the manager/coaches become yes men of the captain to keep their jobs intact. Had Pawar kept the interest of the team in mind, he would have put his foot down on Raj’souster and events could have taken a different direction.
The Indian skipper Harmanpreet tried to justify the decision of Raj’s sidelining, “We were going with a winning combination.” She went on to add that she had “no regrets”. Justify the decision, Harmanpreet rubbed salt in the wound when she said, “Whatever we decided, we decided for the team. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, no regrets,” Harmanpreet said at the post-match presentation at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here. Nevertheless, this normal cricketing logic (playing the winning combination) does not cut ice with the connoisseurs of cricket. There is more than what meets the eye.
The pathetic batting on a turning Antigua track exposed the limitations in the batting technique of the Indian batters. Raj with her sound technique, rich experience and ideal temperament would have negotiated the Aussie spinners better. With another score of 50 plus, she would have been in running for the Player-of-the Tournament award.
Raj has been the nucleus of the Indian women cricket set-up for several years and even recently scored unbeaten 105 off 61 balls – in a T20 against Australia A in the home series. She stands head and shoulders above the rest, as she has the best average among Indians in women’s T20Is, and has scored 17 half-centuries in 80 innings. The next best is Harmanpreet with six half-centuries and a century in 82 innings. Raj’s strike rate stands at 105.89, behind seven of her team-mates (including Harmanpreet).
In the wake of Raj’s dropping against England, skeletons have started coming out of the Indian Women’s cricket cupboard with reports of a tiff betweenHarmanpreetand Rajin the dressing room during a T20 tri-series in Mumbai earlier his year. Harmanpreet had even urged the team management to find more players who could be on their toes most of the time than just stand in the 30-yard circle. The statementis an eye opener that underlines her intentions.
Lastly, author will like to ask the readers if Indian selectors would have ever dared to drop main batsman of their times-CK Nayudu, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Sunil Gavaskar, GundappaVishwanath, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and now VirtaKohli? It did not happen in men’s cricket, however, it did happen in the Indian Women’s Cricket at Antigua recently.