I was very happy to see a picture of Navjot Sidhu and Azharuddin smiling at each other and shaking hands the other day. The duo fought like cats and dogs 22 years back when Sidhu famously returned to India midway through the 1996 England series.
When there is a cricket-related issue, a coach comes into play but when there is a administrative issue, the team manager is responsible. Back then, the Indian team manager Mr Nagraj put the blame on me, when I was just a party to this tussle. I had mentioned every detail of that evening in my report to the BCCI and I had also informed the same to the Chandrachud Committee formed by the board to resolve the matter. As it is a confidential report I cannot reveal what happened in the manager’s room between Azharuddin and Navjot Sidhu – let it remain confidential.
Handling Big Decisions and Big Names Not Easy
Working with established players and working with players who are trying to establish themselves – I experienced both. Be it with the Madhya Pradesh Ranji team or the India Under-19 team, India A, or even with the national team of Kenya or Oman – I thoroughly enjoyed all the experiences.
But working with the experienced Indian senior team was a bitter experience that I would not like to remember. One has to have man-management skills, when you deal with superstars and senior players. But in my case the issue was totally different and it was beyond my imagination. But I got the blame and got sacked too.
Then came a stint as the chief selector. Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had just retired. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh – the Indian legends who had brought glory to Indian cricket also got dropped, and these players were not happy with selectors’ decision. But I am happy there was no criticism from electronic media, print media, BCCI or the cricket-loving people.
The reason I am saying this is because our selection committee handled this process beautifully. Barring a couple of incidents, our selection was applauded and the results are in front of us.
When you are given a responsibility you are also made accountable for each decision you take. When you are thinking of the betterment and the future of Indian cricket, then your personal relationship with the players should take a back seat. No player likes to get dropped and without reason, no selector wants to drop a player. In the field of sports, a player gets picked on the basis of their good performance and gets dropped when they fail to perform. Before the selection, there are questions put as to why “X” player is not picked and after the selection the same people ask why “X” was dropped.
Coaching a team or being in the selector’s chair is thankless job.
The Mithali vs Powar Fiasco
The latest battle between Mithali Raj and Ramesh Powar has triggered another controversy. I had the privilege of working with the Indian women’s team for three years when I was the Director of the NCA and, let me admit, my respect for them has only grown since then.
From Anjum Chopra to Mithali Raj to Harmanpreet Kaur, and their selectors, from Shantarang Swami and others. I had a one-on-one talk with each of them. The hard work put in by all these girls during their training sessions and during other activities organised by the NCA made me realise that the future of women’s cricket was bright and as I saw their progress over the years, it has only made me happy.
During the three years of interaction with the women’s team players, my fellow colleagues at NCA and I never had any bad experience.
Mithali Raj, then the captain of the Indian team, is a shy and quiet woman, but like all great players, her focus and her work ethic is always of the highest order. I still remember the first time I saw her in the nets, I was in awe. I even gifted her one of my beloved SG bats that I usually never share with anyone.
I was shocked when I read about the fight between Mithali and Powar, and I was more shocked to learn that it happened before the T20 World Cup semi-final and Mithali got dropped and India lost the match. I know both of them very well and have worked with both of them too.
‘Timing Just Not Right’
In a big tournament like a World Cup, mood swings do happen. It is part and parcel of the game. That’s where your management skills come handy; and here, both the parties are accusing each other and it is sad that it all resulted in the Indian team’s exit from the World Cup. It is not right for me to comment on how it got triggered and who is to blame.
Two weeks back, Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur said good things about Powar, two weeks later there is no comment from her. This was really sad and the timing of this fight was absolutely wrong. I was the chief selector for many years but I can honestly say that not once did I get a call to influence team composition, but it is upsetting to read reports that Powar received a call that led to Mithali’s benching. Who made this call? Mithali is considered the Sachin Tendulkar of women’s cricket and after seeing her in action – be it in the nets or during a match – I have also become her biggest fan.
The BCCI has already called for applications for the appointment of a new coach for the women’s team. The show must go on and it will. But like the Azhar and Navjot Sidhu controversy, this fight between Mithali and Powar will remain a mystery too. The BCCI has already conducted an enquiry but my appeal and advice to all the concerned parties is to look at the bigger picture. Women’s cricket has shown tremendous progress in the last two years and they have just started gaining momentum.
I just hope and pray that the current controversy does not make it take a back step.