Two half centuries, two Player of the Match awards in the tournament and a decade of experience under her belt, but Mithali Raj was left out of the Indian cricket team that went on to lose the Women’s World T20 semi-final to England on Friday in Antigua.
India’s third big-stage defeat in the last year was triggered by a batting collapse that saw the team get all out for just 112, with 8 wickets falling for 24 runs. All this while India’s highest-scoring T20 cricketer watched from the dugout.
The defeat and, more importantly, Mithali’s omission has seen many raise questions and demand clarification on skipper Harmanpreet Kaur’s statement after the match that she had ‘no regrets’ about not playing Mithali.
The ‘Manager’ That Wasn't
Mithali’s omission or the skipper’s stand – one of the two triggered a Twitter tirade by Annisha Gupta, who claims to be a freelance consultant but was popularly considered to be the former Indian skipper’s manager.
Calling Harmanpreet a "manipulative, lying, immature, undeserving captain,” Gupta said Raj’s exclusion had to do a lot with "politics” and not the sport.
"“Unfortunately @BCCIWomen believes in politics not sport. After witnessing what @M_Raj03 ‘s experience could do in IndvIre it’s shocking that they went with what pleases @ImHarmanpreet -a manipulative, lying, immature, undeserving captain (sic).”" - Annisha Gupta
Few hours later, neither the tweet nor the Twitter account was found on the internet.
The account had been deleted, and soon enough, Gupta issued a ‘clarification’ insisting that while the tweets were posted by her, she was in no way associated with Mithali as her manager.
"I am a freelancer and I have only brought her a few commercial deals/brand endorsements and events. I do this for other athletes as well and, therefore, if any views are expressed by me, they’re my personal views in my private capacity," she wrote in the statement.
In an interview to ESPNCricinfo, she said that her comments came from "the right place" since the "unfair treatment" meted out to Mithali Raj reeked of favouritism. "Maybe I was a little angry but I think it comes from the right place because I don't stand for unfair treatment. The kind of favouritism that has been shown is very apparent. I think everybody can see the kind of favouritism that is being shown to certain members of the team,” she said.
Selection Meeting Information Leaked
Mithali Raj had played India’s first three league matches during the World T20 before picking up an injury and sitting out of the match against Australia. By this stage, India had already qualified for the semis. She did not need to bat in the opening fixture against New Zealand but Raj scored back-to-back fifties.
So why drop a player who was clearly in form?
“To stick to the winning combination," Kaur said after the loss.
The call, though, was not hers alone. The Times of India accessed the minutes of the selection meeting before the match that said it was a decision collectively taken by the management.
"“I, as manager, convened the meeting. They (captain, coach and selector) discussed the wicket and the coach expressed that the same winning combination against Australia should play. Harman and Smriti shared the same view and also told the selector, Sudha Shah, that an extra bowler would help the team. Sudha Shah agreed to the XI and did not express anything.”" - Team Manager Trupti Bhattacharya’s report, accessed by TheTimes of India
The minutes of the meeting were only sent to two people, BCCI CEO Rahul Johri and the board’s General Manager (Cricket) Saba Karim. The two-member CoA are believed to have expressed their concerns to both the officials regarding the leak.
Much CoA Speculation, No Action
While it was being reported that the Vinod Rai-led CoA had asked for Mithali Raj’s fitness reports during the World T20, a member of the committee and former India Captain Diana Edulji spoke out in defence of the team management and said on Monday, 26 November, that the selection decisions could not be questioned.
"“I think too much is being made out of it. The management made the decision of not changing a winning combination and that backfired. We can’t be questioning the team eleven.”" - Diana Edulji, as told to PTI
Asked if the CoA would meet the cricketers to investigate the matter further, Edulji replied there was no such need. "It was a selection matter. There is no need for the CoA to intervene," the former Indian cricketer said.
Less than 6 hours later though, BCCI CEO Rahul Johri admitted that the players had been called to speak to the board members.
Harman and Mithali Meet BCCI Officials
Following the defeat on Friday, Kaur, Raj and Bhattacharya met top BCCI officials on Monday to share their views on the selection controversy.
Johri told PTI, "Yes, we (Johri and Karim) met Mithali, Harman and manager Trupti Bhattacharya. All of them met us separately and put across their viewpoints. We have noted everything down.”
It is likely that Johri and Karim will present a detailed report to the CoA, which will then assess and, if required, speak to the concerned individuals.
Coach Ramesh Powar is expected to meet Johri and Karim on Wednesday, 27 November.
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