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cricket news: On Mithali Raj's Increasingly Puzzling Letter

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Mithali Raj is a great player. She has a Test double hundred, more ODI runs than any player in history, and more than 200 international caps for India. She was left out of India’s eleven for their semi final in the recently concluded T20 World Cup. India lost that game. A player of Raj’s ability being dropped in such an important is unusual but not unheard of. Anil Kumble was left out of the eleven at the 2003 World Cup final. At the time, Kumble of one of only two Indian bowlers who have more than 300 limited overs wickets and had been the mainstay of India’s limited overs attack in the previous decade.

Matters exploded spectacularly after Raj wrote to the BCCI CEO and Cricket Operations General Manager (and former India wicketkeeper) Saba Karim to complain about being left out. Her letter to the BCCI is essentially a complaint against two individuals - Diana Edulji and Ramesh Powar. Her first complaint against Powar is that he changed the batting order and asked her to bat in the middle order. Mithali Raj found this unsuitable. Her second complaint against him is that he dropped her from the eleven for the semi final. She writes that she went to the team manager because she didn’t like what the head coach was saying. In the letter, Raj casts the decision to drop her as the coach’s decision.

"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. " [emphasis is mine]
The Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur has also written to the BCCI and flatly contradicts Raj's characterization of the decision as one made by the coach.
“With regard to the exclusion of Mithali Raj, Sir Ramesh Powar was not single handedly responsible. The decision was entirely based on the cricketing logics and observations from the past. Keeping in mind the need of the hour where me, Smriti, the selector (Sudha Shah) and the coach together in the presence of our manager felt that we should go ahead with the winning combination. And I believe it should have come to your understanding that the intent was not personal but entirely based for the welfare of the team”
The Indian Vice-Captain Smriti Mandhana has also written to the BCCI and agrees with the captain. She writes that all playing elevens were selected using the same procedure.
“All meetings that were held with respect to the playing 11 for all the matches came to a unanimous decision which was taken by the Captain (Harmanpreet Kaur), the Vice Captain (Smriti Mandhana), Coach (Ramesh Powar) and Selector (Sudha Shah) in the presence of our Team Manager (Trupti Bhattacharya).”
Raj's complaints against the head coach and her disappointment at being dropped is understandable. The team management is perfectly within its rights to decide things like the batting order. Besides, given that Raj went to the team manager to ask her to referee her dispute with the head coach, its hardly surprising that the head coach and the team manager agreed with the captain and vice-captain that she should be left out of the eleven. If she was required in the middle-order and didn't bat want to bat in the middle-order, it's best for everybody if she didn't play at all.

In any event, based on Raj's accounts and the accounts of others, its clear that this was a cricketing matter, and no matter what you might think of the merits of the decision, the legitimacy of the decision is not in question. It is more than a little bit surprising that a player of Raj's excellence and experience should let her disappointment get the better of her in this way.

Raj's complaint against Edulji seemed puzzling from the beginning. It appears in the first part of the letter, before the case against the head coach is laid out. The idea that a member of the CoA or the CoA should interfere with who gets picked in the eleven from the squad is as preposterous as asking Jagmohan Dalmiya to get involved in such a dispute. Edulji rightly took the view that the CoA wouldn't get involved in team selection. 

"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 checks 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.
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.
Tushar Arothe, Ramesh Powar's predecessor as head coach, has added his voice to Raj's. His intervention is bizarre because he suggests that Edulji interfered with the team selection at the Asia Cup because, after the tournament ended, she inquired into the selection decisions made by the team management. It is not unusual for former players to express opinions about team selection even though they may be office holders at BCCI. Sourav Ganguly played over a hundred Tests for India and captained India. He is currently the President of the Cricket Association of Bengal which is a member association of the BCCI. He often comments on the selection and performance of men's team. It would be very surprising if he didn't offer his opinion to the players and the selectors in private as well. But this does not mean that the Cricket Association of Bengal is interfering with selection.

Mithali Raj has written to the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri (Her letter is addressed to "Rahul Sir and Saba) complaining about Diana Edulji only a few days after Edulji disagreed with the CoA chairman Vinod Rai's decision to keep Johri in his job following an inquiry into allegations of improper behaviour against Johri by a BCCI employee. The committee which inquired into the allegations against Johri did not return a unanimous verdict. One of the three members dissented, and accused the BCCI and CoA of not following the law (specifically, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013). At the CoA, the chairman Vinod Rai is accused of suppressing the dissenting voice in the inquiry committee and ignoring Edulji's opposition to grant Johri a "clean chit".

Apart from the fact that Raj's complaint against Edulji is substantively feeble, it is remarkable that she has written to the BCCI's CEO to complain about a member of the CoA, who's job is to supervise the CEO. It is an incredible coincidence that Johri should receive a written complaint against Edulji a a few days after Edulji opposed Johri's reinstatement following an inquiry which did not unanimously exonerate him.

If Raj was advised by her advisors to complain in writing, then she was advised poorly. If any part of this advice came from Johri, this would be obviously inappropriate. Did Johri (directly or indirectly) advise Mithali Raj to put her complaints against Diana Edulji in writing? Only Mithali Raj and Rahul Johri can answer this question. Note that Raj's letter appeared in public on November 27. It was reported that she met the BCCI CEO and General Manager on November 26.

At first Raj's letter seemed to be an ill-judged expression of disappointment. Now that subsequent communications by the head coach, captain and vice-captain have been made public, it looks worse than ill-judged. It is very sad that a great player has allowed herself to be put in such a terrible position where in she has been contradicted by her head coach and her colleagues. It would be even sadder if her obvious disappointment has been exploited in a larger political power struggle at the BCCI.
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