Mithali Raj (35) has been described as the most successful Indian woman cricketer. Her record speaks for itself (6,000 ODI runs). And yet, for some inexplicable reason, Mithali now finds herself in a spot, after facing humiliation and what appears to be, a highly vindictive decision to drop her from the World T20 semi-final against England (which India lost by eight wickets). In a candidly worded post, Mithali has named names and let her frustration be known to fans and her teammates. Her detailed 2,000-word post points fingers at two individuals — Ramesh Powar (40), the coach, and Diana Edulji (62), a senior member of the powerful CoA. Mithali’s account of how she was deliberately snubbed and sidelined by Powar during the recent tour of the West Indies sounds pretty credible. Powar has finally broken his silence in a 10-page report to the BCCI. At the time of writing, we have two contradictory versions of what went wrong in the public domain. Whatever emerges in the wake of Mithali’s heartfelt public airing of her multiple woes, one thing becomes apparent — something is terribly off with the way we treat our sports people.
At the recently concluded Times Litfest in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly, one of the speakers, was asked about the Mithali Raj fiasco. In that context, he joked: “Welcome to the club!” and spoke frankly about his own experience which matched Mithali’s, when he too was abruptly dropped (2006) and not given an explanation as to why such a decision was taken. He was playing superb cricket at the time. Much like Mithali. Looking back at that traumatic time, Sourav turned philosophical and advised Mithali to do the same, as she deals with the pain of being badly treated by the likes of Powar, who refused to make eye contact with her throughout the Caribbean tour, and deliberately excluded her from any interaction. She still doesn’t know what her crime was! And he isn’t saying everything, either. Apart from accusing her of being “selfish” and “throwing tantrums”.
Today’s sports stars are not the sort to sit it out meekly and sulk in silence, waiting for the team bosses to eventually make amends and recall them. Perhaps it was different during Sourav’s time. Despite Sourav being a forthright, outspoken individual! And yet, he didn’t go public with his feelings back then. But Mithali has chosen to do exactly the reverse and taken her story directly to anybody interested in cricket. It will be impossible to either ignore or discredit Mithali, after her candid revelations.
There is something most autocratic and arbitrary about the way in which various mighty bodies administer sports in India. I was mercilessly trolled for saying as much during the Rio Olympics (2016) at which the contingent of administrators and other hangers on matched the contingent of competing athletes. There were as many free loaders and odd balls as athletes travelling to Brazil! Several horror stories did the rounds at the time, about the shabby conduct of those accompanying our teams. Many of those office bearers knew next to nothing about sports. Junkets like these cost the country a great deal of taxpayer’s money. There is hardly any accountability and no questions ever get asked. The politics within sports, cricket in particular, are vicious and devious. From the appointment of coaches, to the team selection, everything seems to come with kickbacks, bribes and sweet deals. Without transparency or proper scrutiny, chances of corrupt practices only keep increasing. The stakes are so high, nobody wants to ruin the party by playing spoil sport and talking turkey. All the dirt is swiftly swept under the carpet. It’s business as usual, folks!
Cricket in India has become a cesspool of intrigue and skulduggery. With so much money riding on the multiple cricket fixtures, officials tend to treat the BCCI as their personal fiefdom. There is arrogance and superciliousness evident at all levels. In the bargain, it is quality cricket that suffers. The team gets demoralised each time there is a mess up leading to bad blood on and off the field. And yet, all the big noises involved in running this billion-dollar business called cricket, never ever come clean and let the public know the truth.
Mithali has boldly thrown the gauntlet. She has talked about the rough treatment meted out to her, when she was virtually under “house arrest”. Others are bound to follow with their own stories now that the controversy is out there. Today, India can be justly proud of women cricketers — especially someone of the calibre of Mithali, who holds the prestigious record of scoring the highest number of ODI runs in a career spanning 20 years. This is nothing short of a feat! If she is upset about being benched, without having been given a convincing reason, we should pay more attention to her displeasure. Whether it is Amitabh Choudhary or Rahul Johri, one expects an immediate enquiry into the Mithali saga, before it spirals out of control. A coach is given a specific mandate — to get the best out of the team. Period. Coaches earn juicy salaries and enjoy countless perks. Their job is to treat every player with respect and keep the team motivated. Going by Mithali’s account, Powar was busy playing favourites and targeting those he didn’t like, for whatever reason. Mithali obviously fell into the latter category.
It’s over to Powar and Edulji. They are obliged to play with a straight bat. Cricket fans have the right to know why Mithali was treated so shabbily. The rift is no longer a secret. Perhaps a clean up is what’s needed to restore some dignity to a game loved by millions....