Over the last seven days or so, MS Dhoni has received a lot of flak from all corners. The Indian captain has become everybody’s favourite punching bag, with blows landing left, right and centre. Why? Because he chose to remain silent on the spot-fixing scandal that has threatened to dismantle Indian cricket. And more recently, due to his involvement with a sports marketing firm that also sponsors a few other Indian cricketers, bringing forward the issue of propriety. So, is all the vilification warranted?
First, let’s talk about his silence. Being the captain of the team, everyone expects him to come out and spill the beans on what’s going on. But all Dhoni could offer to the Indian media was a saintly smile when quizzed on the issue during a press conference prior to the departure of the team for the Champions Trophy. After landing in Old Blighty, Dhoni offered the British press more than a twitch of his facial muscles, saying, “When the right time comes, I’ll answer. I just want to keep our side away from everything as of now.”
That Dhoni was buying time was unacceptable to the Indian media, who flashed his face across their channels and newsprint, almost branding him a fugitive. When is the right time, Mr Dhoni, they asked in big, bold letters. My point is: What more could Dhoni have said at this point in time? Yes, he is India captain. Yes, he has a responsibility towards the Indian fans, who number a billion. But what a majority of those billion fail to forget is that he is also an employee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and is answerable to them.
If Dhoni had spilled the beans or spoken his mind out, there would have been just two possible consequences: Either he would have been sacked, which would have catapulted him to the status of a martyr in the eyes of the public, or he would have resigned from his post. And who would be the biggest loser from either of the two scenarios? Indian cricket, without a doubt.
When your team is embarking on a global tournament, dubbed the mini World Cup, where they will be up against the best teams in the world, your job as captain and leader is to keep the team focused on the challenge ahead. And that is exactly what Dhoni did. If he had quit, or been sacked, wouldn’t that have had an adverse effect on the players, who must already be grappling with a lot of emotions due to the happenings over the last fortnight? In trying times like these, the team needs a leader, a calming influence, a soothing balm, and there’s no one better than Dhoni who can do that, as he has proved time and again over the years. Mind you, India might still not do well in the tournament. Hell, they could just get kicked out in the first round. But Dhoni has given them the best chance to do well by not opening a can of worms at this point.
Perhaps what Dhoni could have done better was to give the same response to the Indian media what he gave to the British press. But knowing the temperament of the Indian media, probably even that wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Secondly, on the issue of propriety and conflict of interest, it was reported that Dhoni holds a 15 per cent stake with a sports marketing firm [Rhiti Sports] that also sponsors three other players: Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha. The conflict of interest being — an India player commands higher brand equity. The firm gets a commission on its client’s deals. So, as part owner, Dhoni, the Indian captain, would benefit financially if players sponsored by the firm were selected for Team India.
The conspiracy theorists are out running wild in the open screaming at the top of their lungs, linking Raina’s return to the Test squad in 2010 post signing a deal with the company. Jadeja too is known to be one of Dhoni’s favourites, and has been a regular member of the team in all three formats since November last year. Dhoni finds himself in the same boat as former shuttler Pullela Gopichand, who has his own badminton academy along with being the head coach of the Indian team, thus having a say in selection matters. Gopichand has even been taken to court over the matter. But does that prove anything?
Raina may have returned to the Test team in 2010, but is nowhere near the all-white flannels as things currently stand. Even Ojha, who has been one of India’s best spinners in the last 12 months, was dropped from a couple of Test matches against Australia, to everyone’s bewilderment.
The point is, until it is proved that Dhoni had a role in keeping the said players in the team against their performances, there’s not much anyone can do anything about. A sportsman is allowed to be associated with a sports management firm. Having a stake, which the firm has since denied, may not be the ideal scenario, but it isn’t a crime unless proven that the players are wrongfully benefitting from the deal. So, should Dhoni come out in the open over this issue as well?
“An individual is obliged to no one but to himself or herself,” wrote Ayn Rand in her rather bold novel, TheFountainhead. As long as the individual is true to himself or herself, he/she does not have to bow down to the whims and fancies of society. Dhoni has no obligation to clear his name in both cases, if he isn’t involved in them. Sourav Ganguly, who was India captain when the match-fixing scandal had broken in 2000, had this to say to the press: “Whatever any person may say, I personally feel that the most important thing is to be honest to your own self. If you are honest to your own conscience, no allegation would be able to touch you. In the field we should only concentrate on cricket.”
Whether Dhoni has read The Fountainhead, or taken a cue from Ganguly, he has done the right thing. Period.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a reporter, sub-editor and analyst at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and multiple sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)