Harmanpreet, Mandhana urge BCCI to keep Powar as coach
India's captain and vice-captain have told in a letter to BCCI that they see no reason to replace Ramesh Powar as head coach, and that the decision to drop Mithali Raj during the World T20 semi-final had been unanimous
Days after BCCI put out an advertisement to hire a new head coach for the Indian women's team, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana, two of India's senior players, have made strong appeals to the board to stick with Ramesh Powar, who had held the job till November 30.
In separate e-mails sent to the BCCI on Monday, Harmanpreet and Mandhana - the captain and vice-captain of the T20I team respectively - categorically stated that Powar should "continue" as the head coach keeping in mind the T20 World Cup in 2020 and that replacing him would only affect the growth of the Indian team.
Under his contract, which ended on November 30, Powar was eligible for a one-year extension that was contingent on a positive appraisal. Instead, the BCCI opted to advertise for the head coach position, with interviews scheduled for December 20. The new coach, who will get a two-year contract, is likely to be shortlisted by the cricket advisory committee or a group of eminent cricketers.
Harmanpreet's email was titled "Humble Request" while Mandhana's was "Sincere Plea." Both marked their e-mails to the two-member Committee of Administrators (CoA), Rahul Johri (BCCI CEO), Saba Karim (head of women's cricket) and the three BCCI office-bearers. The emails were also copied to Trupti Bhattacharya (India women team manager) and Sudha Shah (one of the national selectors). Neither player was available for comments, and ESPNcricinfo could not ascertain what prompted them to send the e-mails.
However, ESPNcricinfo understands that the players wanted to let the BCCI top brass know about Powar's impact on the team, despite his getting embroiled in the controversy over the omission of Mithali Raj from the semi-final of the World T20 last month. Raj had accused Powar of trying to "destroy" her career, and Powar responded by saying Raj had threatened to retire if she was not allowed to open in the World T20.
After India lost to England in the semi-final, Harmanpreet said it was a collective decision to leave Raj out. Both Harmanpreet and Mandhana have reiterated that point in the letter, saying all decisions about the playing XI for the World T20 matches were unanimous and were always taken in the interest of the team. According to Harmanpreet, Powar was not solely responsible for the exclusion of Raj in the WT20 semi-final.
"Ramesh Powar was not singlehandedly responsible," Harmanpreet wrote. "The decision was entirely based on cricketing logic and observations from the past," Harmanpreet wrote in the email, accessed by ESPNcricinfo. "Keeping in mind the need of the hour, 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 knowledge that the intent was not personal but entirely based for the welfare of the team."
Both Harmanpreet and Mandhana emphasised the impact Powar had on the team during his short stint. Both pointed out that with India's next international assignment -- a bilateral tour of New Zealand -- in January, and the T20 World Cup in "hardly" 15 months away, India could not afford another change of coach. Tushar Arothe had controversially resigned in July after a fallout with some of the high-profile regulars in the team.
"There are hardly 15 months for the next T20 World Cup and a month to go for the New Zealand tour," Harmanpreet wrote. "The way he has transformed us as a team, I feel no reason to replace him with any better at this point of time when the team is coordinating well with him and amongst each other."
Harmanpreet and Mandhana said that Powar's biggest strength was he had got all players - seniors and juniors - into a state of mind where they played to win. Powar, the pair said, had changed the approach of the team and made the players gain immense self-belief. "Ramesh Powar not only improved us as players but did motivate us to set targets and challenge our own limits. He has changed the face of Indian women's cricket team both technically and strategically. He has inculcated in us the sense of winning," Harmanpreet wrote.
Mandhana made the point that, under Powar, India had won "14 consecutive T20s" before the WT20 semi-final defeat.
"Ramesh sir has changed the intent of players and given everyone confidence to express their selves on the field to their fullest. His one-to-one connect with each player has led to clarity in roles for all players and made everyone believe that they are matchwinners in his short tenure with the team."
Both Harmanpreet and Mandhana reflected on the controversy that Indian women's cricket was plunged into in the aftermath of the leak of reports of Raj and Powar in the public domain. Harmanpreet said the defeat was "very disheartening", but the Raj-Powar controversy had "stained" the image of Indian women's cricket. She added that both Powar and Raj should resolve any "conflicts" between them by calling a "truce", which would entail not just them, but entire Indian cricket would feel a "sense of security."
Mandhana said that for the sake of Indian cricket's growth it was imperative that "everybody is on the same page" and differences be resolved "amicably."
Harmanpreet was blunt and said that in case the BCCI went ahead and replaced Powar, it could affect the team's growth.
"It takes a while to understand and select combinations and equate with a coach's temperament. Another change of coach will affect our growth and we will have to start from scratch," she wrote.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo