Mithali Raj has broken her silence on the controversy surrounding her omission from the Indian women’s cricket team playing XI for the ICC Women’s World T20 semifinal against England played in Antigua on November 22. India lost the match by eight wickets, and apparently, the senior player’s omission was the result of a clash between Raj and coach Ramesh Powar.
The 35-year-old batter, India’s most experienced campaigner and highest scorer in T20Is, was dropped for the semis despite scoring back-to-back fifties earlier in the tournament in the Caribbean. Post the big defeat, questions were raised about the real reason/logic behind keeping Raj out of the match. On November 26, Raj, Harmanpreet and team manager Trupti Bhattacharya met Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials .
Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and Board General Manager for Cricket Operations, Saba Karim (who is in-charge of women's cricket), Raj, the ODI and Test skipper, lashed out at Committee of Administrators (CoA) member Diana Edulji and coach Ramesh Powar, saying that a "few people in power are out to destroy me”.
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Edulji “used her position against me”, alleged Raj.
“For the first time in a 20-year-long career, I felt deflated, depressed and let down. I am forced to think if my services to my country are of any value to a few people in power who are out to destroy me and break my confidence,” she wrote.
“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.”
“I wanted to win the World Cup for my country and it hurts me because we lost a golden opportunity.”
Here is the full text of Mithali Raj’s original letter, published by India Today.
Dear Rahul Sir and Saba,
First of all I would like to thank you both for lending me an ear to hear my grievances. In all the years I have played cricket for India and under the BCCI, I have always found the board to be open to player grievances and finding an appropriate resolution.
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However, for the first time in a 20 year long career I felt deflated, depressed and let down. I am forced to think if my services to my country are of any value to a few people in power who are out to destroy me and break my confidence.
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, 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 t/20 World Cup has left me deeply distressed, more because she knows the real facts having spoken to me. Thereafter her statement saying 'selection is not the COA's headache' is like suggesting there is no system of cheques and balances and anyone can do anything and get away because they have the backing of people in power.
May I say that I am aware that by writing this email I am making myself even more vulnerable. she is a COA 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.
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I have always adhered to protocol and haven't said a word in the press regarding anything that happened in the West Indies believing that the BCCI is there and in the end 'my truth ' will have an ear there and my matter will be handled justly. But the brazen support of a COA member is a clear sign of bias and also that a stance has already been taken against me. By saying 'I don't support someone' and then going all out to support my benching in the press is prejudice of the clearest sort.
At this juncture I would also like to point out that I have nothing against the T/20 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. I wanted to win the world cup for my country and it hurts me because we lost a golden opportunity. But I am of the opinion that Harman and I are senior players and our issues, if any, should be sorted out by the two of us by sitting across the table. 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. Having said that, my issue is deeper. My issue is with the coach Ramesh Powar and in all stories circulating in the press, I find that issue getting diluted.
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. For me team comes ahead of anything. After the game it was evident that the opening did not work as the team was 3/38 after power-play and yet in the team meeting the next day he informed me that we are going with the same opening pair as against New Zealand. And he also praised the openers despite them not succeeding.
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This left me completely shocked as against Pakistan there was no requirement of strengthening the middle order and also I have a great record against them. This was a match we had to win. I immediately reached out to the selectors and upon their intervention, he told me just before the game at breakfast that I was opening. I performed well in the game and we cruised to victory. But instead of saying any words of encouragement it appeared he was out there to prove a point and from there on his behaviour changed dramatically towards me and really caused a lot of stress in the middle of one of the most important tournaments for us.
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. Finding the situation completely out of control and realising that it is important to resolve issues as it affects the team I reached out to the team manager and conveyed my grievances. She convened a meeting at my request between the coach and me in her presence and I spoke to him politely yet firmly about all that was going on. In front of the manager at numerous instances he agreed to his fault ' haan Meri Galti hai, 'Mujhe Aisa Nahin karna chahiye tha'. I also offered for the team cause that if he wants to send youngsters to open to try them it would be best if he can try them against Ireland as they were the minnows to which he said no you will open against them. I hoped this would be the end of the differences between us but clearly I was wrong.
After the meeting his behaviour turned worse. He would not even acknowledge me. To him I didn't exist in the team. If I was around he would immediately move away from the scene, if I looked to wish him he would deliberately start looking in other direction. He continued to behave badly as I have already informed you yesterday. It appeared to me that for him the meeting had hurt his ego. In the game against Ireland also on a tough pitch I scored another match winning performance but unfortunately took a bump on my knee while fielding. The physio advised some rest and said to review it the next day. Because of all the stress I was running low grade fever also. We had no game the next day but there was a training session. The physio advised me to rest it out as there was slight swelling and because I had fever. In the evening after the team meeting before the Australia game, Ramesh rings up in my room and instructs me not to come to the ground as the media will be there. I was taken aback as to what media has to do with me being with the team. I was told I was not to be with my own team in one of our biggest games. I was shell shocked. I spoke to the manager immediately and told her that I am not seriously injured and only seriously sick and that I want to come and watch my team play. She agreed and told me to come. But I received a text from Ramesh in a few minutes after my conversation with the manager wherein he told me not to step out of the dressing room. I found it strange why is he getting involved when it was purely the managers' and physio's call. When we won the Australia game Ramesh sent a word across with a teammate to call me down to the dugout so that I can join the team for a victory lap. It was strange because right through the match I had been put under house arrest and was never allowed to leave the dressing room.
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When we reached Antigua for the semi-finals, we had 3 days before we played England. The first day there was no nets, it was just a fielding session, but Ramesh was taking 5 girls for extra practise. When I heard this from one of the girls I thought that since I did not bat for 2 days, I should also join them for practice. So, I texted Ramesh that I would like to join for the extra training. However, I did not receive any response from him and hence I reached out to the manager. She got back to me saying Ramesh wants you to come with the whole team later and skip the game, so I can bat..I went into the nets and as soon I got into the nets, Ramesh just walked away from the area. The sign was clear that he had already made up his mind that he didn't want to play me in the semis. The next day he paired me up with Deepti, second last pair in nets wherein I had to play part time bowlers and sometimes I just had 3 bowlers in the nets. It was not even middle order, it was lower middle order where I was batting, the kind of practice given to a player who is not in your scheme of things in a key match. All this made me believe that he didn't want me in the team and will oust me despite performing. Coming to the semi finals, usually Ramesh announces the team a day before or on the day of the game before we enter the ground but it was unusual that on the day of the semis, he did not announce the team. It is when Harman walked to toss, he came running to me and said that they were going with the same team. It meant the whole team knew who were playing and it was just me who was not aware. Also, when the team was getting ready to field in the second innings, it is customary that even those who aren't playing should join the team huddle as it has always been the norm in our team. But to insult me that day, he sent a word through the manager to tell that it was only the playing eleven that can join in the huddle and the rest can go back to dugout making us feel as outcasts. It was worrying and insulting because the coach was out to destroy and humiliate me.
I couldn't control my tears having given it my all for 20 years. It seemed my efforts had no value.
After the Australia game, which we won, Ramesh sent a word across with a teammate to call me down to the dugout so that I can join the team for a victory lap. It was strange because right through the match I had been put under house arrest and was never allowed to leave the dressing room.
In the light of the above, I as captain of India in ODI's who has given her best for the country, do I have any hope left to be given justice. With Diana turning against me publicly and with the coach's unjust behaviour ,I feel utterly dejected and depressed. As I was told not to go to the media I write this email to you as the last resort. Please advise against the next course of action.
Now that the can of worms have been opened, it remains to be seen what stance the BCCI takes to bring order into the teams. Especially since the precedent for both the men’s and women’s team has been to let the stars get away with their whims, fancies and tantrums.
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