Millennium Post
Game On

Setting things straight

Indian women’s cricket team’s disheartening performance in the World Cup is a pointer that fresh energy, greater competence and new leadership, along with a fair bit of support from the BCCI, are needed

Setting things straight

It will be very disappointing for cricket fans at home not to see Team India figure in the ICC Women's ODI World Cup final to be played today in Christchurch. The hype and hoopla which had been created over Mithali Raj's team came crashing down in a campaign which lacked competence and cohesiveness.

For those who have followed women's cricket over the years, to see mighty Australia and England compete in the title clash will be a repeat of sorts. These two teams, in contrasting styles, have plotted their journey to the final. For Australia, their run this time has been like Bull in a China shop, while England showed remarkable professionalism and the will to win when they looked like being bounced out. Their recovery and resurgence exhibited freshness in approach and execution of plans with a great measure of mastery, showing why they are the defending champions.

At home, despite this being the Indian Premier League (IPL) season, fans have followed women's cricket with enthusiasm and expectation. Most matches began at 6 am India time, yet, fans were ready to wake up early, change their own body clock and cheer for Team India. Having been finalists in the previous edition, expectations from this side led by Mithali were but natural.

However, the way Mithali — a veteran who has played six World Cups — led the side this time was not at all good. Captaincy is an art and a style. Yet, captaincy today has become a challenge as big as that of flying an Airbus where, despite all the modernisation and cockpit controls being computerised, the pilot still has to be alert and ready for rough weather.

Well, Mithali first made heavy weather of the challenge. And when the team was in choppy waters, she did not show inspirational leadership. For many, criticising Mithali or the star fast bowler Jhulan Goswami is blasphemy. Pray, if superstars could continue playing on past performances and reputation alone, you could let Mithali and Jhulan continue.

The time has come when the Board of Control for Cricket in India has to take stock, pretty fast. Agreed, Mithali and Jhulan are romantic relics who have been

inspirational in several ways. Yet, modern sport does not allow for emotions and sentiments to overlook hard facts. That the Indian campaign was a flop show in New Zealand is stating the obvious. And for India to make a hash of the last league match against South Africa, almost like a knock-out, was painful viewing. There were moist eyes, there were people choked with emotions. Was this the team which had lost to England in the final in the previous edition? Was this the side which had players who were supposed to deliver but choked on the big stage?

These are genuine questions for which the fans are seeking answers. There is no place for emotional fools in sport. Modern day sport is ruthless. It is survive or perish. If you are doing well, you will be cheered and backed. When you cease to do well, the knives will be out.

If batsmen of the calibre of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara have been eased out of Team India (Tests) after being given ample chances then there is no scope for Mithali and Jhulan to be part of Team India anymore. Does that sound harsh? It may. But if you are looking at the future, one has to plan well, which is the job of the BCCI.

To be sure, the term of Coach Ramesh Pawar has ended. The mysterious "BCCI sources" have told the media that Pawar can reapply for the job. If that were the case, it would be most foolish. A failed coach needs to be dealt with the same way the players are not considered for selection. We all saw how Ravi Shastri played his role as men's team coach in tandem with Virat Kohli. Yet, the BCCI (or Sourav Ganguly) was unforgiving and the two left, on their own.

Pawar can reapply but the BCCI must junk his application. Back to Mithali and Jhulan, they are past prime. Modern women's cricket is played very hard. The way Australia and England play the sport is a treat to watch. Their stroke play, running between the wickets, ground fielding and catch-taking abilities are almost at par with what you will watch in men's cricket. These two teams plus South Africa have shown during this World Cup that they can chase around 300 runs or set even more stiff targets. That South Africa failed in the semi-final against England was pretty one-sided but they have great talent and tenacity. Names of Du Preez and Shabnim Ismail are now so popular.

In contrast, Team India, despite having a decent bunch of players, couldn't play consistent cricket. Such was the format of the tournament, there were enough chances to recoup and regroup. England exactly did that when they seemed to be gasping for breath like a patient on a ventilator. They started breathing freely when under pressure and then churned out champagne stuff in crucial league matches plus the semi-final, where left-arm orthodox bowler Sophie Ecclestone was devastating.

We need to see all this in Team India. There has to be spunk, there has to be speed, there has to be survival skills. And this is where a change at the helm is imperative, as Mithali now looks a misfit. Her batting used to be good but in the white ball-format of today, she is a misfit. The ODI format and the more in demand T20 format are very competitive. Players have to be razor-sharp on the field — be it batting or bowling. The fielding has to be super sharp and dropped catches are a luxury which even a millionaire cannot afford. Worst, Mithali's captaincy in the last match against South Africa was club-class.

Her inability at accelerating the score and the inability of the other batters to show better running between the wickets need to be worked upon. Former cricketers are pitching for either Smrithi Mandhana or Harmanpreet Kaur as the new ODI captain. The BCCI needs to give priority to women's cricket and ensure that the ladies team can start rebuilding under a new leadership and coaching staff. Like women's hockey, a lot of work needs to be done on fitness, endurance and looking lithe. Half the matches are won with the kind of body language on display.

Beyond the boundary, watching the Indian women's team splutter and stutter gave me a chance to interact with former international cricketers Jaya Sharma and Neha Tanwar on radio shows. These two ladies concurred that had India done well this time, the window of opportunity for Indian women's cricket could have become bigger.

In hindsight, it seems, all talk of a women's IPL to be implemented soon was not timed well. When the Indian campaign was on in New Zealand, this was a big distraction. Players reacted from overseas as they know India is a giant market and there is money to be made.

A few Indian players have competed in the Big Bash League in Australia. Fans would love to see a women's IPL, but before that we have to ensure our domestic cricket structure for girls is stronger. The volume of cricket which men and women play in India makes for poor comparison.

The BCCI needs to set its priorities right. It is not about being the richest board which rewards even Olympic medalists. Please plan for your own players from the grassroots. There is talent and there is the right temperament. Find the right mentors and coaches. If not, Indian women's cricket on the global stage will look even more vulnerable.

So, what happens to Mithali and Jhulan? They did their best for India in their long careers, no denying that. The time has come when selectors need to have a chat with the ladies, for retirement is something personal. Nobody can be pushed into it.

Views expressed are personal

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