The question of the coach for the India women’s team, itself a highly divisive matter within the side, has become the latest flashpoint in the two-member Committee of Administrators (CoA), with Diana Edulji taking strong exception to the “unilateral” decision taken by Vinod Rai over the process of appointing a new coach.
The war of words between the two surviving members of the CoA, which has been reduced from four following the resignations of two other original members, also reopened the role played by Virat Kohli in the controversial departure of Anil Kumble as the head coach of the India men’s team last year.
Despite Edulji’s insistence on retaining Ramesh Powar, who had been India women’s interim coach till the World T20, Rai had signed a BCCI media release, which stated that an ad-hoc committee was formed to shortlist and finalise the new coach. The panel, comprising Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad and Shanta Rangaswamy, will conduct interviews on December 20.
Rai said he was “constrained” to give the final instructions to appoint the ad-hoc committee in the “best interests” of women’s cricket. “We can’t extend uncertainty,” Rai said in an email sent to Edulji and the BCCI hierarchy, including the three office bearers.
Edulji, who was disappointed with Rai’s decision, told ESPNcricinfo that “this committee has not been approved by me”. She strongly disagreed with Rai, saying he could not take “unilateral” decisions, considering the Supreme Court had given her equal authority.
“As chairman he can’t take any unilateral decisions as there is no casting vote for chairman,” she said. “It is strange that in a democratic set-up of the CoA only views of one person are considered and the views expressed by other member who was also appointed by the Supreme Court along with you don’t matter.”
The divide between the two CoA members surfaced as soon as the BCCI opted against renewing Powar’s contract, which had expired on November 30. Powar was appointed as the interim coach from September 1, replacing Tushar Arothe, who had to resign after senior players had told the BCCI that they did not agree with his coaching style.
In a long trail of emails exchanged with Rai, which have been accessed by ESPNcricinfo, Edulji stressed that Powar should “continue” as coach because India’s T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur and vice-captain Smriti Mandhana had requested he do so.
Edulji reminded Rai that the precedent of listening to the player’s view had already been set last year during the controversial resignation of Kumble, who was told by the BCCI that Kohli had differences with his style of coaching. Edulji told Rai that he had accepted Kohli’s word despite Kumble having the backing of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), the three-member selection panel that had appointed him as coach.
“The captain [Harmanpreet] and vice-captain [Mandhana] have requested their choice, so why can’t we respect their choice for this tour till we get clarity on the committee,” Edulji said in an email on Tuesday. “We can go ahead and continue with the same coach. The views of the two senior players must not be ignored.
“Virat did not accede to Kumble continuing inspite of CAC saying so, then why not these two players get what they feel is best for the team.”
In response, Rai argued that although Kumble had “stepped back” due to the “differences” with Kohli, players had not sent emails to CoA or the BCCI. Rai told Edulji that a head coach could not be picked by asking for the players’ votes. “Yes- there were differences between Virat and Kumble,” Rai said. “As a consequence of that Kumble stepped back. More importantly, the team did not send emails. The team must realise that that coaches are not decided on team votes.”
Edulji responded saying there was “nothing wrong” with Harmanpreet and Mandhana recording their opinions about the coach saga in emails because “they were truthful in expressing their views.” Despite earning the backing of a majority of the Indian players, Powar could not earn similar respect from the team’s senior-most player and ODI captain Mithali Raj.
Raj was included in only three out of the five matches India played in the World T20 and was dropped for the semi-finals against England. In a scathing email to the BCCI management, Raj said Powar wanted to “destroy” her career. In response, Powar said Raj threatened to walk out of the WT20 and retire if she was not allowed to open.
Edulji also accused Rai of keeping her away from discussions when he met Raj and Harmanpreet in Delhi recently to resolve the differences between the pair and seek their views on the appointment of coach. The next day, Powar received a shot in the arm after Harmanpreet and Mandhana had sent out separate emails urging the CoA and the BCCI to continue with Powar, who they said had a positive impact on the players. As for the differences between Powar and Raj, both players insisted these could be sorted amicably. “In my absence, you had a meeting with the two women cricket captains and when I enquired on the same; you replied saying they wanted to meet you, so you met them. Once again, you have failed to understand that I have an equal say in all matters of BCCI as CoA with equal rights not less not more.”
Edulji also wanted the CAC comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman to conduct the interviews and shortlist the names for the women’s coach. The CAC members had informed the BCCI that they were not available to be present at such short notice, but given a “defined role” and adequate time they would be happy to help. Edulji suggested India could travel with Powar continuing as the interim coach for their tour of New Zealand in January, allowing CAC to do their job.
However, Rai was in no mood to oblige. “We cannot now withdraw and say that we will continue with our ad-hoc coach of three months – who has been the reason for such bad blood in the team. This chapter has to be closed and the earlier the better.”
Rai said that he could not understand why Edulji and the senior players were against hiring a new, experienced head coach, who could possibly help them crossover the “plateau” they keep hitting in big-ticket tournaments like the World Cup.
Rai asked Edulji to instead “persuade” the Indian women players to “grow out of micro issues” and see the “macro” picture.” “What I cannot understand is why some members of the team, or any other person advising them, is against having an internationally acclaimed coach. Don’t we seek to upgrade the team from the plateau that they keep hitting in international games?
With additional inputs from Annesha Ghosh