How History Will Remember Ramesh Powar, the Coach Who Dropped Mithali Raj and Once Played for India

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How History Will Remember Ramesh Powar, the Coach Who Dropped Mithali Raj and Once Played for India

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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ndia’s run at the Women’s World T20 came to an end in the semi-final against England, but the most talked about person in the post-tournament analysis has been a player who did not even play the match. Bonafide legend and India’s captain in the ODI format Mithali Raj wasn’t in the squad, and the fallout from her exclusion has cast a spotlight on a cricketer most fans of the game had all but forgotten: Ramesh Powar.

Remember him? The bit-part all-rounder most notable for being India’s answer to Inzamam ul-Haq, when it came to running between the wickets? You’d probably mistake him for a man who played gully cricket after a hearty Sunday lunch, but you can’t really blame Powar. This was the noughties and fitness in Indian cricket was as alien as consistency is to Australia today. Powar was never really popular, but he experienced a brief spell of relevance in the mid-2000s, featuring in a couple of Test matches and 31 ODI games. I combed through the recesses of my mind in search of a stellar Powar performance worth remembering, but came up short. In an era when Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan were redefining the role of an all-rounder on the Indian side, Powar was the jack of all trades but master of none.

In 2015, eight years after his final appearance for India, Powar announced his retirement from all forms of cricket. He’d spent his career’s twilight years bouncing around various Ranji sides, and representing Kings XI Punjab and the defunct Kochi Tuskers in the IPL. But in India, cricket is omnipresent and there are many paths to glory. If Powar failed to win matches for India, then he would be ready to offer his services as a coach.

Ramesh Powar was appointed interim coach of the women’s team in July. He would finally get to be part of the Indian contingent at a World Cup tournament. His squad made it to the semi-finals, a respectable finish any way you look at it. Even the controversial decision to drop the in-form Mithali Raj from the final 11, apparently taken in conjunction with team captain Harmanpreet Kaur, was justifiable.

For the coach to behave as if a player of Raj’s calibre “didn’t exist” in his squad is a massive misstep on his part.

What was not justifiable was Powar’s alleged behaviour as coach, revealed in a letter by Mithali Raj to BCCI higher-ups, leaked to the media. It began when Raj approached selectors about being given back her old position of opener, since Powar had her batting down the order. After Powar’s decision was overturned, Raj more than proved her worth by hitting back-to-back 50s against Pakistan and Ireland. Even so, the coach remained unhappy with one of the best-performing players on his team.

“He would not even acknowledge me. To him I didn’t exist in the team. If I were around he would immediately move away from the scene, if I looked to wish him he would deliberately start looking in other direction,” says Raj in her email. She continues, “It appeared to me that for him the meeting [with team manager Tushar Bhattacharya] had hurt his ego.” For the coach to behave as if a player of Raj’s calibre “didn’t exist” in his squad is a massive misstep on his part. And “moving away from the scene,” is what children do on the playground when they fight with each other.

Still, there’s no point in crying over spilt milk. India’s run in the tournament has ended, and Powar’s term as coach will be coming to an end on November 30. But in this Powar vs Raj battle, Powar’s the winner both on and off the field. He had his way during the tournament and his return to cricket, even as coach, will be more memorable than his stint as a player.

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