Remember your aggressive questioning of Mike Denness, Mr Ravi Shastri? Would you now question MS Dhoni in a similar manner?

Ravi Shastri, standing tall among the mediapersons, microphone in hand, nostrils flaring, moustache bristling in righteous indignation, his voice, familiar, voluble and practiced, had rung out over the melee: “My question is, if Mike Denness is not going to answer questions, why is he here? We all know what he looks like.” Match Referee Denness caused controversy after the 2001 Port Elizabeth  Test  between South Africa and the visiting Indians when he sanctioned six Indian players.

Faced with questions about the murky incidents surrounding the Indian Premier League (IPL), Mahendra Singh Dhoni stuck to staunch silence, sometimes sprinkled with smiles. A decade ago, a similar silent interview given by Mike Denness had attracted the wrath of Ravi Shastri. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the similarities and differences of the two sagas of silence.

In the press conference prior to the Indian team’s departure for the Champions Trophy, MS Dhoni, looking dapper in a white shirt and a smart tie around his neck, answered the uncomfortable questions with a mix of occasional smiles and total silence. Anything to do with the Champions Trophy was answered with normal fluency, but whenever the direction of questioning tended to hover around the murky spot-fixing and bookie related scandals of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Indian captain pressed on the mute button and put on his non-committal smile. It was a far cry from the mischief-mingled grin that he carries in the less-hostile meetings with the press. This was far more formal — much like his attire.

Spot-fixing, involvement of the franchise owners with the bookies, Gurunath Meyappan’s arrest and even the pictures of Vindoo Dara Singh sitting next to his wife [Sakshi] watching an IPL match at the stadium, all these were thrown at Dhoni like probing darts. And whenever things turned prickly, Dhoni turned off his smile and the queries failed to penetrate his expressionless visage.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had even sent an invigilator down to the podium, ominously named Dr RN Baba. Every time problematic posers rebounded off Dhoni’s silence, Dr Baba smashed them down as if swatting flies.

The Indian captain did not even declare that he would not answer questions related to betting, fixing, arrests, franchise owners and everything that minutely ventured into greyish zones. He refused to offer a stroke even to the inviting deliveries that wondered if, as captain of the Indian team, he considered it his responsibility to tell his side of the story.

Yes, he was under gag orders. Under directives not to speak about sensitive topics to the media. Is such embargo placed of the freedom of speech acceptable in a democracy? Well, N Srinivasan is not exactly the flag-bearer of democracy anyway.

It is indeed easy to criticise Dhoni for not even offering a word in response to questions echoing across the nation. And a lot of politicians and ex-cricketers have jumped on the bandwagon to denigrate him for his silence. What he could have said in response remains debatable, especially while toeing the line with a zealous BCCI watchdog in tow. However, the incident does lend us an opportunity to indulge in a thought experiment.

A decade and a bit earlier, another person had been under similar gag orders during a press conference. On that occasion, the directives had been issued by International Cricket Council (ICC). The man in question had created a proverbial chasm within the cricket world by banning six Indian cricketers, and accusing Sachin Tendulkar of ball-tampering. The incensed Indian journalists had thrown decorum to the wind, and proceeded to attack Mike Denness with unchecked aggression. And the match-referee had continued to sit there in complete silence, refusing to answer a single question.

That was when Ravi Shastri, standing tall among the mediapersons, microphone in hand, nostrils flaring, moustache bristling in righteous indignation, his voice, familiar, voluble and practiced, had rung out over the melee: “My question is, if Mike Denness is not going to answer questions, why is he here? We all know what he looks like.”

Even now, Shastri remains a member of the media. My question is: Would Shastri have ventured to throw the same question to MS Dhoni as he sat in the same manner, refusing to answer questions? Would he have questioned an Indian captain in the same violent tone as he had unleashed on a rather cornered match-referee, a former England captain?

Or would the voice be tentative, wondering if the question would go straight through the skipper and leave its mark on the Board President? Is it more likely that Shastri’s aggression would have slipped and fallen between the dotted lines that connect him with BCCI?

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)