Ratnakar Shetty Interview: 'Mithali Raj is Sachin Tendulkar of Women’s Cricket'

·14 min read

G Viswanath

Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, former General Manager – Game Development of the BCCI, with additional focus on women’s cricket, believes that the BCCI should walk the extra mile to give an impetus to the India under-19 women’s team and `A’ team and align programmes on par with the junior men’s. He also believes that women coaches should be engaged with the junior teams so that they get exposure to handle international teams. He gave a thumbs-up to Mithali Raj’s long career saying: ‘I look at her as the Sachin Tendulkar of Indian women’s cricket.’

In this interview with News18.com, Prof. Shetty takes stock of women’s cricket after it came under the BCCI fold in 2006 and feels that the unsavoury episode that caused an upheaval in Indian women’s cricket after the Women’s T20 World Cup in 2018 was all unnecessary and could have been avoided had the authorities then handled the situation better.

Excerpts:

It’s been 15 years since women’s cricket came under the BCCI umbrella. Would you say the unsavoury incidents that took place in 2018 (involving Mithali Raj and coach Ramesh Powar) could have been avoided?

It was a very unfortunate episode. It was handled very badly. It could have been handled in a better way. What Mithali wrote to the BCCI and what Ramesh Powar wrote, should not have been leaked or for that matter the interference of a former player supporting Mithali. The decision to remove the coach (Powar) without giving him an opportunity to hear his side of the story or happenings (in the West Indies particularly when the captain and vice-captain stated that they were part of the process to select the playing eleven), the authorities could have done better than what they did. If that incident had been handled with maturity we would not have another one bout the way Raman was sidelined.

Recently former coach WV Raman has touched upon the prima donna culture in the women’s team…

As I understand Mithali Raj has been playing for India for 20 years and the selectors in the last 12 to 19 years are all those who played with her and some amount of personal egos are bound to be there for whatever reason. It is up to the selectors to take the coach into confidence while selecting the Indian team and also keep all other issues aside. Mithali has attained a certain level of success and may have some views about some players which may not be the same as the coach. It is extremely important that the captain respects the views of the Coach too in the larger interest of the team.

Mithali has been around for two decades and more. She has been the mainstay of the team and captained India in 137 ODIs…

I see her as Sachin Tendulkar of women’s cricket. Her contribution has been outstanding and we must give her the credit for what she has done to the game of cricket and for Indian cricket.

Earlier you talked about selectors getting personal. There have been whispers of ex-players dominating the selection committee and favouring Railways players?

It’s not the players’ fault that they are employed by the Railways. I don’t think it’s fair to cast aspersions just because the selectors are from the Railways and that they promote the Railways-employed girls. At the same time I feel those appointed as selectors should also ensure that no injustice is done to any other girl. They should be honest to themselves and the teams they select because they are picking an India team. The onus is on the selection committee to pick the best talent. If the selectors are not honest such whispers keep coming. Since 2008, Selector is a professional paid job, so they are not doing a favour to the BCCI. They might as well remember that the selectors’ job requires to be honest to pick the best talent available at that point in time.

What about a woman coach for the Indian women’s teams?

The NCA had the Level 2 course for coaches and a number of women who had played for India, attended the programme. The NCA course will help women coaches. They can be made coaches of the under-19 and India `A’ teams to start with so they get the experience and exposure. There is going to be a small pool of 5 or 6 qualified women coaches. They need to be encouraged.

You touched upon building under-19 and India `A’ teams. Does India have the talent to invest in these two teams.

The BCCI needs to invest. We started with the `A’ team in 2017, and the BCCI has to take it further. The junior teams should be given exposure in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other overseas countries. They will play tough cricket and learn.

Everyone today is talking about the Indian men’s team and the young players. All this started because the BCCI gave importance and relevance to under-19 and India `A’ teams and tours for these two teams were well planned. We have to start somewhere, We have to make a beginning for junior women teams. We cannot say that we don’t have talent and wait for talent. The BCCI has to invest in these teams for the next three or four years and I am sure girls will benefit from such encouragement.

You have you been involved with women’s cricket for a long time, especially at the national level?

I was aware of the women’s cricket activities when I was the office-bearer of the Mumbai Cricket Association. Prior to 2006, women’s cricket in India was run by the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI). And with limited resources and difficulties, the WCAI ran their cricket activities very well. Most people remember only the Indian women’s team that reached the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup final in England. But the Indian women’s team had played the final of the 2005 World Cup as well. The WCAI had hosted two World Cups in India. So it’s not that everything started to look good for them only they came under the BCCI management. The BCCI has definitely helped women’s cricket in India grow. We provided the infrastructure, which WCAI badly lacked. Once BCCI took women’s cricket under its wing its member units also had to start activities and the girls got big grounds to play, qualified support staff was available to them and gym facilities. They got to play more domestic tournaments. They also started receiving match fees and allowances. 2016 onwards the international cricketers were also offered annual retainerships.

Who among the BCCI Presidents went all out for women’s cricket and facilitated their entry into the BCCI structure?

It was Sharad Pawar. I was closely associated with Jagmohan Dalmiya from 2001. I felt then that the BCCI was not really keen on taking over women’s cricket. The ICC had sent a circular in 2000 that women’s cricket should come under the nation’s cricket Board and entry for World Cup will be accepted only from the national Board. The BCCI used to discuss this issue at AGMs and postpone it saying that it was waiting for information from the cricket boards of Australia, England and New Zealand as to how they manage women’s cricket. The BCCI members were not forthcoming at all to take interest in women’s cricket. But Mr. Sharad Pawar was very firm. He insisted that the ICC’s advisory has to be followed and the members accepted it though with some reluctance. Some suggested that the BCCI can create allot a budget to WCAI for their activities. But Mr. Pawar was very clear that women’s cricket has to be a part of the BCCI and its affiliated members.

Ratnakar Shetty Interview: 'Mithali Raj is Sachin Tendulkar of Women’s Cricket'
Ratnakar Shetty Interview: 'Mithali Raj is Sachin Tendulkar of Women’s Cricket'

Is the BCCI conducting enough tournaments for the development of women’s cricket? It appears they (those who follow women’s cricket) are not satisfied with the present situation.

Yes the BCCI has been conducting tournaments for women based on the inputs from some of the legends of Women Cricket. Currently, the BCCI has under-16, under-19, under-23 and senior tournaments, in white-ball cricket and a two day game for under-23 and three day game for seniors. At the international level, they play the ODI and Twenty20 formats. The WCAI used to run three-day games because Test cricket was played by some countries regularly then. Now even the cricket boards of Australia, England and New Zealand are not keen to play Test cricket. New Zealand cricket went to the extent of saying that they are finding it difficult to keep women’s cricket going in their country and that they are interested only in white-ball cricket. It was when the BCCI pushed hard, India got a Test match in England in 2006 and 2014 and now they will play one in 2021.

Are the BCCI members giving time to promote girls and women’s cricket?

Every association is seriously doing its bit for women’s cricket. Some of the established state units like Mumbai CA, Maharashtra CA, TNCA, KSCA, MPCA, UPCA and DDCA have a history of women cricket activities under WCAI. For the other units, women’s cricket was an added responsibility and they have some practical difficulties which cannot be ignored. Parents are not willing to push their girl into this game at the under-14 or under-16 as they would do for their son. Participation of girls in sports in our country needs the support of the parents. The state units find it difficult when it comes to organising tournaments in the district and towns as compared to cities. With all these impediments the member associations are doing well. We can always say that much more can be done, but it’s not that the associations are not doing anything. In the last 15 years, there has been a positive development across India so for as women’s cricket is concerned. What is required is nurturing of the talent available, because once a tournament gets over, there is nothing for the girls. So if the activities are sustained, it will help.

Are some States doing it for the sake of promoting women’s cricket?

I think a majority of the state units have started investing in women’s cricket and are holding school and club tournaments and having selection trials and you will be surprised to know that at all these centers the turnout of girls has increased substantially after 2017. Slowly the parents have realised the fact that the girls also can make a career in cricket, majority of the States have set up academies for women’s cricket, good infrastructure and have women’s committees. In some States, there are no Women Committees because they don’t have past cricketers. There are many state units that don’t have any international retired women cricketers and here the BCCI should help them.

How do you sum up the last 15 years from the point of view of BCCI’s direction to women’s cricket?

I think we have done fairly well and it is there for everyone to see. The girls are getting exposure and opportunities and girls from remote places are fighting their way into the national scene. I had met Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Jhulan Goswami in 2017 to understand the issues relating to women’s cricket and particularly with respect to the Indian team. They were honest in their views and told and we drew up a wish list. I conveyed it to the Committee of Administrators (CoA) who were open to their suggestions and gave me permission to implement the same one of which was the appointment of Tushar Arothe as the Coach. They wanted augmentation of coaching and support staff and other facilities that were given to the men’s team. The best thing that happened was the incentive given to them for reaching the final of the 2017 World Cup. I think 2017 certainly has changed women’s cricket for good because of the visibility. All the matches were telecast live and it also turned out to be one of the best performances by the Indian team in a World Cup. The whole team did well, not one or two individuals. They became popular and began to have a fan following. The BCCI needs to take it further.

Would you share the opinion that white-ball cricket is the only way forward for women’s cricket?

It is. Let us accept it. I don’t think any other country is interested to play Test cricket at this point in time including the ECB, Cricket Australia and Cricket New Zealand. What’s the point in playing one Test match in five years. What are the teams and players going to gain? Except having the satisfaction that Test cricket is alive. The matter of fact is that all the countries want to strengthen their white-ball cricket, which has a world event once in two years for T20 and once in four years for ODI. India too should do that, focus only in white-ball cricket for the moment. I think the BCCI, when Shashank Manohar was the president, had taken a decision to pursue white-ball cricket. The BCCI decision was based on the premise of world cricket having taken a call to promote women’s cricket through white-ball cricket.

The match fee too has been enhanced, isn’t it?

A.When Anurag Thakur was the president in 2016, he introduced the retainership for the international cricketers a huge step I must say. The retainership payments were enhanced by the CoA afterwards in 2017. I think in terms of financial support and incentives,the BCCI has done well for women’s cricket.

So the women cricketers cannot have too many complaints now?

A. I don’t think so. The BCCI has even established the Twenty20 Challenge involving three teams during the IPL playoffs. However one may argue that there has to be a women’s IPL, the fact is we are not ready yet. We don’t have enough quality players needed for an event like IPL which was amply demonstrated in the three Twenty20 Challenge tournaments. The BCCI should continue with this event with three teams only for some time and develop the bench strength so that they are ready to come into the system.

What should be of some concern though is that job opportunities have shrunk. In the earlier days Railways, Banks and Air India used to employ cricketers and under WCAI the Air India team like Railways used to participate in the National Tournament. Under BCCI this was not possible and for some years now Railways are the only employers of women’s cricket and I am told that too is shrinking.

Would you say India’s brightest players in the last five year or so have been Harmanpreet and Smriti Mandhana and they have taken Indian cricket forward by leaps and bounds?

No doubt about that. Mithali and Jhulan were the role models who are still playing, before that we had Anjum Chopra. But in the last five years or so, Harman has done extremely well and she has really made a place for herself in international cricket and so has Smriti Mandhana. They were in demand when the Big bash Women’s League started and BCCI allowed them to play there in Australia and later also in the T20 league in England. A lot of girls look up to them and get inspired. These two are the role models now. Shafali Verma is another example of how to get your players. If you support these players and promote them, the Indian team will only get better. Jemima Rodrigues is an outstanding talent, but she is yet to establish herself.

The BCCI took charge of women’s cricket in 2006. Has events been run to satisfaction, has everything been smooth?

Not all have been smooth, it has been controlled well by the BCCI. The issue, on occasions, with women’s cricket was the functioning of its selection committee. There were multiple issues related to selection and it boiled down to individuals. I still remember a meeting convened by N. Srinivasan at Cricket Centre. They selected 14 players in 15 mins or so and then for an hour they could not arrive at a consensus for the 15th player and the convenor had to intervene.

One final observation about what can make things better for women’s cricket in India?

Developing and promoting under-19 and India `A’ teams and arrange tours for them just as the men’s programmes is scheduled. Also employ women coaches for the junior teams.

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