There is a long history of Indian cricketers being associated with India Inc. So on the face of it, there is nothing unusual about MS Dhoni being named the captain of the India Cements Team that will play in the BCCI Corporate Trophy tournament. After all, the tournament was started in 2008 with the intention of promoting employment opportunities for domestic cricketers in India's corporate houses. Even Rahul Dravid had a long association with India Cements.
The problem arises in Dhoni’s case, however, because not only does he not need employment opportunities, this is another tie that binds Dhoni and N Srinivasan, the MD of India Cements and the BCCI president, even closer together. Dhoni is already captain of the Chennai Super Kings, the IPL team owned by India Cements. The management agency that represents him – Rhiti Sports - also reportedly does work for CSK. Dhoni has also been named a vice-president of India Cements.
The biggest elephant in the room is, of course, the Indian captaincy. Given all the other interests that the two share together – and with the IPL, these are business interests as well – can Srinivasan and Dhoni take decisions without being affected by the other relationships they share?
A board president should ideally be a dispassionate observer who acts in the best interest of Indian cricket as whole. Admittedly, this has rarely been the case in India, given the constant tug of war between state associations and the various zones. But the various ways in which Dhoni and Srinivasan have become intertwined goes beyond anything Indian cricket has ever seen.
In December, Mohinder Amarnath, the former India selector, went on record saying the selection committee was ready to remove Dhoni as captain. Another selector, Raja Venkat, then told the Indian Express that, “Sanjay Jagdale, the BCCI secretary and convener of the national selection committee, consulted BCCI president N Srinivasan who shot down the proposal. Srinivasan made it clear that though the majority of selectors felt that Dhoni didn’t inspire confidence as Test skipper, the time was not right to remove him.”
This is not to say that Srinivasan’s decision was the wrong one. It may very well have been the right decision. But there is no way of knowing whether it was taken on the basis of pure cricketing logic, or other calculations were at play. Surely that perception is something the president of the board should want to avoid.
The same, in reverse, goes for Dhoni. As captain, he knows that he not only has the backing of Srinivasan, but also depends on him in many ways. If Dhoni believes a certain player should be selected, but the selectors disagree, does he think he can go over the selectors’ heads to Srinivasan? If the player also plays for CSK, does that affect Srinivasan’s thinking? And how does all this play out in the minds of the other players in the team?
There is nothing wrong with the BCCI president and the Indian captain sharing a good relationship. There should be an atmosphere of openness and trust between the two. What there should not be is a mingling of ambitions outside of cricket. In this particular case, it has created a situation where any decision on Dhoni’s captaincy or his cricket has ramifications beyond the cricket stadium. And that is not the image Indian cricket should be projecting.