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No Contracts, Absurd Sackings: Former Coach Reveals Unprofessional Side of Indian Women’s Cricket Team

Leslie Xavier |
Despite the elevation of the profile of Indian women’s cricket, much remains the same in the back rooms, illustrated by the unceremonious exit of the national coach Tushar Arothe, while former coach and skipper Purnima Rau reveals other ills.
Indian Women Cricket Team

Indian women's cricket team lost its coach on July 10, Tushar Arothe citing personal reasons for the resignation, but, as usual, there is more to the story (Pic: Twitter).

A good result here and there -- especially when one of them happens to be reaching the final of a World Cup -- can keep the mob happy. In this case, it has kept Indian cricket fans in their delirious state of being and brushed under the carpet some harsh realities stifling the game!

We are referring to the Indian women’s cricket team which lost its coach on July 10 -- Tushar Arothe cited personal reasons while resigning but the story, as usual, had more to it. It has become apparent that the exit was triggered by differences over “training methods” between the coach and some senior players. Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj, captains of the limited-overs sides, conveyed to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI’s) Committee of Administrators (CoA) -- Diana Edulji to be exact, who handles women’s cricket -- that they can’t continue with Arothe.

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A BCCI press release announced the resignation, adding another sour episode to the women team’s rather inglorious history of bad treatment of its coaches.

The Indian women's cricket team players are not exactly world beaters. It so happens that women’s cricket is not run in a professional manner either, reveals Purnima Rau, former coach of the players who form the core of the current Harmanpreet (T20) and Raj (ODI)-led teams.

Rau took charge of the side in 2014, taking over after Anju Jain. India were No. 8 in the ICC rankings then. Rau was in turn axed, without any reason given, after a series against Sri Lanka and the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh.

Sudha Shah, who herself was sacked unceremoniously once before in 2010, took over and led the side to a historic Test win in England. But after the ODI series loss against England and a subsequent home series defeat against South Africa, Shah was axed. Rau was called back again in 2015 for the stint that saw her coach the side to wins against New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and triumphs at the Asia Cup, and the ICC Qualifiers -- a run of 16 ODI victories in a row.

However, just ahead of the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, Rau was removed and the reigns of the team were handed over to Arothe.

No Official Contracts

Rau remembers the ad-hoc system that was in place during her tenure which lasted till April 2017. The coaches and support staff never had contracts and Rau was usually paid a meagre sum ahead of the tour or tournament, which was supposed to be her coaching fee. And then, one fine day, the BCCI CoA decided to end her services. The administrators found it easy to cut her off as there were no contractual obligations or complications involved.

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“To say I was shocked when I was told that I no longer would be the coach would be an understatement,” says Rau. “Under me, the team had great momentum and rhythm to win the World Cup and we had an unbeaten run of 16 matches. And suddenly, with an irrational decision, they messed up the chances.”

Rau reveals there were no contracts in place for the women’s team coaches even before her stint, and says she is happy that Arothe had one and that he could leave the job with pride in tact.

“My case was different. I, nor the support staff, had contracts and one fine day I came to know through the media that I am no longer the coach,” recalls Rau. “They didn’t even have the decency to call me up and give an explanation. And it was clear that the decision was made by the CoA in consultation with some senior players, and the final call was made by CoA member Edulji [former India skipper].”

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What’s perplexing is that Rau’s good record with the team was never considered when she was axed and the former India player says that’s how things have always worked with the women’s team.

“Things head in an upward direction and then they do something that actually breaks the back of the team,” says the former India skipper, frustration evident in her voice.

However, in Arothe’s case, the CoA and the BCCI had pertinent and immediate reasons to evaluate his future. India lost a T20 tri-series against Australia and England recently and also lost to minnows Bangladesh in the Asia Cup T20 in June, that too twice including the final. The Board called in Harmanpreet and Raj to evaluate the performance and the duo didn’t paint a favourable picture.

Arothe, however, was upset with how the CoA and Edulji handled the situation, saying it created further distrust and he didn’t want to continue.

“I wasn’t willing to continue as there was complete atmosphere​ of distrust,” Arothe was quoted as saying in the Times of India. “If senior players behave like this, then it has adverse impact on the junior cricketers in the team as well. So I decided to resign. I am surprised the BCCI too entertained such a complaint.”

The tiff between the players and Arothe began with their difference of opinion about training sessions -- the players didn’t want two sessions in a day, which they felt were tiring them out. Arothe’s justification to that is that they did the same ahead of the World Cup last year, and it helped the team improve their overall game, including fielding and fitness.

Coaching methods or bad administration?

Rau finds the complaint from the players absurd and says the players knew Arothe’s coaching methodology beforehand and they rooted for him earlier.

“They were OK with that last year and now they have a problem with it. There is no justification to that, I feel,” says Rau. “Of course, during my time, since I had played at the highest level, and am a woman, I could understand the unique physical strains on the players’ body and the physiological and emotional demands. I used to plan my schedules taking all of that into account. Then again, each coach has his or her own approach and Tushar was assistant coach with Anju Jain during her tenure and the players knew how he would go about the business.”

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Rau feels that more than the debate on coaching methodology, the pertinent question one should ask now is why CoA is taking such subjective decisions, that too on the cusp of another major tournament. The ICC World T20, to be played in the Caribbean, is just four months away and the Hyderabad-based coach is worried about the team’s momentum going into the major tournament.

She places the blame squarely on CoA member Edulji.

“The CoA is a two-member committee now after the resignations of Vikram Limaye and Ramachandra Guha,” says Rau. “With Vinod Rai having no past experience in cricket, Edulji is taking the calls on cricketing matters and is making things difficult. Edulji has not been associated with the game, be it as a coach or an administrator, after her playing days. She was manager of the side way back in 2008 and was out of the game till she was appointed as a member of the CoA. Lot of water has flown under the bridge in her absence. Her decisions, especially regarding the women’s team, have been questionable, as you can see.”

Questionable indeed. But then, as mentioned earlier, if the team manages to get back on track somehow, all of this would be forgotten.

However, things would start to glare back with a vengeance when Indian women’s cricket -- unlike the men’s game which is better off, but as bad where administration is concerned -- starts to stagnate. A lack of proper vision in taking care of the players and the team, lack of a system from the grassroots to the national side could come back to haunt them in the long run.

Such a system would begin with giving respect to solid coaches with experience and credentials, not job insecurities and confidence-denting experiences at the hands of star players.

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