Captain caught & bowled by controversies

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(Dhoni at the age of 8)

A little before noon on March 27, lawyer Harish Salve bowled the first bouncer against Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Supreme Court. Until then, the focus was on N Srinivasan, the disgraced cricket administrator, in the courtroom of Justices A K Patnaik and F M I Kalifullah. Salve tore into Dhoni, almost calling him a liar. The captain is “guilty of corrupt practice”, he thundered, by telling Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee that Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was just a “cricket enthusiast” and did not play any role in IPL team Chennai Super Kings, owned by his father-in-law. The ace lawyer did not stop and took to Twitter to slam Dhoni, “a cover up to save Meiyappan is corruption. I can’t believe the captain (Dhoni) of CSK did not know Meiyappan’s role”. As the courtroom drama played out, Dhoni was miles away in Bangladesh leading India in the T20 World Cup and Srinivasan recovering from a cataract surgery. Only days before, the Indian captain filed a Rs 100 crore defamation case against Zee News Network for airing allegations that he was involved in IPL betting and spot-fixing.

Mahi, as his friends call him, has travelled a long way after debuting with a duck in international cricket in a wintry December 2004 in Bangladesh to become the country’s successful cricket captain and the sixth highly paid athlete in the world with an earning of $31.5 million. With just 100 days to go for his 33rd birthday, Dhoni now finds himself in the midst of a roaring credibility crisis despite having many firsts and peculiar achievements in his record books. He occupies a special place in India’s cricket history as the country’s most successful cricket captain who won T20 and ODI World Cups. Mind it, even a captain like Saurav Ganguly could not achieve this feat.

Every time he was on the verge of losing captaincy, Dhoni bounced back with spectacular performances and with a veto from Srinivasan whenever selection panel contemplated a change. Fans were ready to ignore all these because they could identify the cricketer with themselves.

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Many found inspiration in the then 23-year-old debutant with long locks who guarded the wickets. From discards Munaf Patel to Piyush Chawla in the past and current India players Bhuvanesh Kumar to Mohd Shami, he almost opened the gates for small town boys flooding the Indian dressing room, playing important role in the destiny of the cricketing history. It was a dream run for ‘Mr Cool’ or ‘Captain Cool’, as fans and cricket writers love to call him.

He was unleashing a new dream, a new India where a self-built man or woman can achieve anything. An ordinary Indian was trying to live it when controversies started trickling in. Into his fourth year in international cricket, he was chosen the captain and sixth year, he got a whopping endorsement of Rs 200 crore. Ganguly had become captain in the eighth year of his career and Sachin Tendulkar in the seventh. Dhoni was success personified for many.

Perception started changing since last May with the arrests of cricketers in IPL spot-fixing case and those like Meiyappan in betting case. Suddenly, the focus was on the captain. Nobody pointed fingers at him for indulging in illegal practices but with Meiyappan behind bars, doubts were raised. Dhoni’s proximity to the just ousted BCCI chief came under scrutiny and his role as Vice President of India Cements owned by the former. Adding to the woes was “unverified information”, as termed by Mudgal committee, about India-capped players and a statement of a Tamil Nadu IPS officer G Sampath Kumar pointing fingers at prominent faces. It was also speculated in media that Kumar had named Dhoni in his statement to Mudgal panel, which was handed over to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover and whose contents are not in public domain, along with Meiyappan for indulging in illegal activities.

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It was like a proverbial deluge of negative reports about him soon after. Reports also emerged about him holding stakes in a sports management firm owned by his close friend Arun Pandey that manages four India-capped players – Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha and R P Singh. It raised serious questions on conflict of interest but later Dhoni divested his stakes.

As Salve put Dhoni’s integrity on question, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) staunchly defended the wicketkeeper-captain, saying he has not said what Salve had quoted. Union Minister and BCCI office-bearer Rajiv Shukla wanted that nobody should be dragged without substantial evidence. Reports suggested that Dhoni has offered to quit India Cements and captaincy of CSK but Srinivasan rejected it as he appeared to fight it out till the end.  The fighter that Dhoni is, he might win this battle on and off the field at the end.

However, this time, the victory off the field will come with a price tag, as he may have to share the baggage of filth attached with it. But it is not time yet to condemn the small town boy who made it big. Wait for the Supreme Court to uncover the sealed report.

(Article appeared in Spotlight of Deccan Herald on March 30, 2014)

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