Just Why Did BCCI Keep Mum On The Dhoni-Sehwag Controversy?

MANY questions in the Virender Sehwag-Mahendra Singh Dhoni controversy, which briefly threatened to overshadow India’s campaign at the ICC World Twenty20 in England this week, remain unanswered. The biggest question that arose after Sehwag’s shoulder injury was detected was: When captain Dhoni refused to comment on any injury-related queries by the media, why did the BCCI take inordinately long to come out with a feeble, nondescript ‘we knew about the injury’? Even this statement was, strangely, not from its secretary N Srinivasan, but by Rajeev Shukla, one of its vice-presidents, when someone approached him to get the BCCI version of the story. A proper explanation was still missing. 

Well, for those who have for years followed the manner in which the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) operates, know that its office-bearers might change but its inherently incoherent attitude on major issues will never change. Clearly, the BCCI had blissfully, though deliberately, kept quiet about the developments in England, much like a step mother would do to a child that is not hers getting beaten by someone. Actually, even step mothers at times behave better. The board only reacted as an afterthought, and realised that ‘oh, it was our own team’ that was mired in controversy. Some people, rather organisations, will never change their stripes. 

Ideally, the BCCI ought to have stepped in on the very first day the controversy broke out, spoken to players and the manager, and issued a statement. Instead, the board chose to gauge the drift of the issue. I wonder what they waited for. Were they afraid of taking sides of either player? What would have they lost had they either justified Dhoni’s refusal to speak on the injury or backed Sehwag for carrying the injured shoulder to England? The board kept mum as if all its key officials had gone on a long summer holiday to another planet and weren’t aware what was happening on Mother Earth. 

The BCCI has acted and behaved in similar ways – and more bizarrely at times – umpteen times since it was formed in 1928. But, 80 years later one would expect board officials to move with the times in the 21st century, when money and communication is not a hindrance. If the officials had really wanted to prevent the controversy from getting snowballed into a major brawl right in the middle of the World Cup, they could simply have pressed a mobile button and spoken to Dhoni, Sehwag and the team manager -- and others if needed -- and sorted the issue out. 

For an organisation that is worth more than Rs17 billion (its net worth was Rs. 17,147,155,393 on March 31, 2008, as per its accounts), phone bills were hardly an issue! Why, then, the delay in diffusing a situation that was seemingly getting out of hand? Well, the real answer will, perhaps, never be known, going by the unique and mysterious ways the board works. 

Srinivasan sends out press releases of all hues and sizes, like the flight numbers by which the team travels, quite regularly, keeping the media informed. So it is unfathomable why he chose to remain quiet on the Sehwag issue. 

There are many inferences that people are drawing from the manner in which the board chose to act on this particular issue. The main question being raised is: Was the BCCI afraid of the growing status of Dhoni in Indian cricket? They cite that not long ago Dhoni had accused an unnamed selector of “leaking” confidential information from a selection meeting. He also became the first Indian cricketer to opt out of a Test series, on the tour of Sri Lanka, saying that he was tired of playing too much cricket and badly needed rest. The BCCI could not force him to play in that series and he returned for the ODI series that followed.

Experts say that these two incidents raised Dhoni’s stature manifold. But the Jkharkhand player, who also controversially skipped the Padma award ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan this year despite being in India, has done well as a player and captain to attain the stature he has. In his unique manner, he has led admirably a team that has several former captains, and handled them all without much of a problem and even got the unit forming to the best of its ability. He won the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa at a time when India was reluctant to participate in the tournament and the team was without the ‘big three’ – Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly. 

So, maybe some wise head – actually, they all are too wise to pick up one – in the board had suggested to his colleagues that it would be better to wait and watch the developments than take sides. Maybe, they had also felt that Sehwag would get fit and the controversy would die a natural death. 

It is also possible that someone in the BCCI had suggested that it would not be prudent to even go against Sehwag, who got vice-captaincy last year on his own terms and the in-form batsman is presently an automatic starter in all three formats of the game – Tests, One-Day Internationals and Twenty20. Last year, when chairman of selectors K Srikkanth – his silence in the present controversy is baffling too – approached Sehwag to offer him vice-captaincy, the Delhi batsman told him and Dhoni to their faces that he would accept the mantle only if they would appoint him for the long term. 

Both Srikkanth and Dhoni could not argue with that line and Sehwag was appointed permanent vice-captain for all three forms of the sport. So, on the basis of his tremendous batting form of last year and this year, Sehwag’s stature has also increased. Knowing this well, the BCCI mandarins could not have afforded to castigate him in public for allegedly hiding the shoulder injury. Maybe, this was a reason why the BCCI preferred to turn a blind eye to the controversy. 

Sehwag has eventually been ruled out of the World Cup. But the Indian team will not be the same without the swashbuckling opener. Dhoni and others found that out as the West Indies defeated India in a Super Eights match on Friday night. For the sake of Indian cricket, millions of Sehwag fans would hope that the sooner he gets fit the better for the national team -- and also that the BCCI mends its ways of working!