A conflict not of Dhoni's making

Dhoni's possible part-ownership of a player agency is up for debate, but without anything more than unsubstantiated whispers, his commitment to team and cause is not.

Updated: June 04, 2013 18:57 IST
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Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by any competent journalist or historian. - Joseph Pulitzer.

It was only a fortnight ago, on May 19, that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) promised to put a system in place to regulate player agents and ensure that only people who satisfied certain criteria would be allowed to represent cricketers.

Two weeks can seem a generation away when things move as quickly as they did after M Gurunath's name was first mentioned in connection with the spot-fixing scandal that hit the Pepsi IPL. The swiftness with which the focus shifted away from S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan to Gurunath and then N Srinivasan, was matched only by the pace with which the BCCI went from promising speedy probes and harsh measures for the guilty to elevating board-room politics to a finer art than ever.

That May 19 press conference after an emergency BCCI meeting seemed all but forgotten, as did the measures announced in it - including a one-man enquiry committee manned by Ravi Sawani, the head of BCCI's own anti-corruption unit, and the promised slew of measures the BCCI was to take to strengthen anti-corruption procedures with guidance from Sawani and Dr. YP Singh, the head of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit.

But unexpectedly enough, the issue of player agents made a reappearance with the publication of an Economic Times piece on MS Dhoni and Rhiti Sports. The report, and all those who quoted it and built storylines around it, dealt more with the 'conflict of interest' aspect of the matter than the validity of Rhiti's agency.

In an ideal world, interest would accumulate in the bank while conflict would take place on the field.

Today, news anchors who specialise in speaking louder and more stridently than anyone else on the screen - logic and nuance be damned - would have you believe the two words cannot co-exist independently.

Which brings us to Joseph Pulitzer's quote at the start of this piece. Rhiti is owned by Dhoni's childhood friend? It has current India players on its rolls? Some of them even play for Chennai Super Kings? They might not have always merited selection in the Indian team but were picked anyway? Bingo, there's a nice little box, wrapped with a ribbon, with a visiting card that says with finality "It must be due to Dhoni's conflict of interest that they were picked".

Assume for the moment that despite Arun Pandey's assertion to the contrary, Dhoni does have some sort of ownership in Rhiti. It is reasonable to suppose that a player who has a regular spot in the Indian team is more likely to have big brands and deals lined up for him - of which his agent (Rhiti in this case) will get a cut. The bigger the deal, the sweeter the cut. And that is, quite obviously, a massive conflict of interest. In which case, if the BCCI is serious about a system for player agents, they must add conditions on ownership of agency and bar players from having any direct or indirect interest in any agency that has any tie-up with cricketers.

But what if it's not as clear-cut as that? What if Dhoni picked or recommended players whose talents he had a strong belief in, and that is why they were picked up by Rhiti? It is a subtle change in the causality that television channels would have us believe. Dhoni believed in the abilities of a Suresh Raina and a Ravindra Jadeja, which is why he has plumped for them more often than not. And on the evidence of on-field performances, he's been proved right too. Jadeja's steadily growing performances have been a revelation and his show against Australia was nothing short of outstanding, while Raina has been a limited-overs lynchpin for some years now.

To be sure, the argument against a player - and a national captain at that - having even an indirect interest in the commercial fortunes of other players is still very, very sound. And it is not something that appears tenable at all, even with the best intentions. But the condemnation of Dhoni's 'motives' in backing certain players is built on a completely one-eyed, black-or-white worldview that I find difficult to subscribe to.

It is also naive to think that Dhoni is the first (or last) captain to veer towards players who have shared commercial interests, which brings us to the original point of proper accreditation of player agents. In the absence of such, it is doubly difficult to sift through the various agents who have represented players over the years. But it will be very surprising if, at one point or another, Indian captains haven't had the same player agents as members of their team. Not all those team members will always have been unanimous picks. So were they there because of the captain's gut-feel and belief or because of the captain's bias towards them because of possible commercial interests?

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the principles of natural justice and reason demand that the second explanation is given weight, especially when you think of the immediate past of Indian captaincy. The men who've led India in the past decade and a bit are Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Dhoni. Each one has contributed significantly towards winning matches, series and respect for India worldwide.

Dhoni's possible part-ownership of a player agency is up for debate, but without anything more than unsubstantiated whispers, his commitment to team and cause is not.

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