Heartache at Cape Town: BCCI should stop the musical chairs of coaches for Indian women’s cricket team

Teary eyes. Face buried into their palms. Folded hands seeking supernatural help. Laughs giving way to grim faces. A few cheers here and there whenever hope shot up. Stunned faces as the familiar heartbreak finale closed in. A collective sigh in the end followed by free-flowing tears. Senior players and support staff once again left quizzing themselves how to pick up the pieces and move on. And a run out that will haunt a lifetime.

This heartache is not new to Women in Blue. From the time they made it to the final of the 50-over World Cup in 2017, where they collapsed near the finish line against England, they have gone through such phases regularly in ICC events. A year later, they lost to England in the T20 World Cup semifinals in the Caribbean; two years later to Australia at Melbourne in the final of the T20 World Cup. Last year, as cricket returned to the Commonwealth Games, they settled for silver losing to Australia in the final in Birmingham.

And now this at Cape Town, where they lost the semifinals by 5 runs to Australia. Like in the case of CWG final and the 2017 World Cup final, India were on course for a statement win – Australia had no answers to Harmanpreet Kaur — only for the unlucky dismissal of their captain to ensure the story repeated itself.

“It’s very difficult to control myself. I don’t know,” Harmanpreet said. “Right now, I am sitting in a hangover. I don’t understand how it is going on. But after this, when we go to the room, we will know how many more days it will take. But I think we played good cricket. That’s all I can say,” she said.

Dropped catches, poor fielding, mix-ups in the middle, failure to close down important moments… all had a role to play in India’s downfall. For a team that aspires to be the powerhouse in women’s cricket, they still have plenty to make up on the field.

It’s vital that India and the BCCI go back to the drawing board and have a vision in place and ensure continuity when it comes to support staff. Last December, with just two months left for the tournament, the BCCI chose to shuffle – the team has had three different head coaches for each of the three last three T20 World Cups. In an internal shuffle that had few signs of coming, Ramesh Powar, who has been the head coach since 2021, was assigned to the men’s wing of the National Cricket Academy.

Hrishikesh Kanitkar who had been handling the men’s Under-19 and A teams along with the senior women’s team as a batting consultant, was put in charge of the team for the T20 World Cup. To assist him, the BCCI had Troy Cooley – a fast bowling coach that the team felt was necessary for South Africa conditions. With Powar not around, and spin being one of their team’s strongest suits, there was none to assist the likes of Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav and Devika Vaidya.

Even Sairaj Bahutule, who was earlier in South Africa with the victorious women’s Under-19 team – and whose experience of the conditions could have been handy – was not told to stay back, and instead was seen part of the men’s team in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy which has experienced R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel in the mix.

In their most important league match against England, the Indian spinners were out-bowled by their counterparts, and a defeat meant they ended-up playing Australia in the semifinals. For a team that is still in the developmental stage, having a strong support staff is essential and so is continuity in terms of planning.

Make no mistake, this team is not similar to the men’s side, which prefers more of a man-manager than a tactically nuanced coach. Given the youth and the system they come up in, the women’s team needs a bunch of support staff who are technically well equipped and can assist them tactically on the field.

Top teams that regularly vie for top prizes all have continuity in planning and let the process take over. But by constantly changing coaches almost every couple of years, be it the players or the BCCI are not giving themselves a best chance to win. Coaches, like captains and selectors are normally appointed from one 50-over World Cup cycle to another, which includes two T20 World Cups. However, Indian teams, under Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet, seems an exception to it and unsurprisingly continues to pay the price.

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