1998: India captain Mohammed Azharuddin walks into the Cooch Behar Room of the Cricket Club of India to address the media before a tour, armed with a plate of sandwiches. Azharuddin and coach Anshuman Gaekwad are ready to field questions, but a senior news agency journalist won’t have the captain of India speak to the media in between bites of his snack. He suggests to Gaekwad that the captain finish his sandwich first. Without any drama, Azharuddin mumbles his way through yet another media conference.
'Caption Cool' MS Dhoni has ‘some fun’ with Australian journalist Sam Ferris, who asked about his future in cricket. Pic/ICC
2016: India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, stung by a question on his future in the game, calls the reporter to where he is addressing the media after a semi-final loss in the ICC World T20 and decides to ‘have some fun’ with him. Many in the media conference are in splits. Some of the others don’t know how to react. The above 1998 incident immediately comes to mind and I start to wonder what if Dhoni belonged to another era and did what he did to the Australian journalist with some of the finest names in Indian sports journalism. I can assure you that the likes of SK Sham, ATP Sarathy, Rajan Bala, Ron Hendricks, Sharad Kotnis (all deceased) and Khalid Ansari, still a journalist at heart, would have put an end to the drama and also staged a walk-out.
Dhoni can’t be ice-cool all the time. He’s human. What we don’t expect from a man of his stature is to ridicule the occasion — the venue from where the public, your very own fans, get to know what is playing out in your mind. Why should a question on Dhoni’s future be invalid? And it’s not that Dhoni was asked the question first-up. Of course, what he felt about the loss to the West Indies was priority, but when your farewell to international cricket is expected — if not imminent — that question will be asked at some point.
Clearly, Dhoni’s preparation for that question was warped and, as we all know, he chose the wrong guy. There was a better way to answer it — even without being asked. How about, “Ladies and gents, let me start by saying, I am not quitting limited overs cricket. Now, let’s get on with this press conference.” This would ensure no questions on his future; and, if someone still asked, the media manager would have put an end to it.
I view Dhoni’s March 31 ‘laughter night’ as a slur on the decorum expected of a captain. Journalists are expected to maintain decorum by raising their hands to ask a question, so why can’t players and captains indulge in some basic civility too? Dhoni’s behaviour was absolutely unbecoming of an international captain and his question to the journalist about whether he has a brother who can keep wickets, was churlish.
What he did after the previous game against Bangladesh was equally ridiculous. Again, the question was a valid one — to paraphrase, ‘despite winning, are you happy with the overall performance?’ Dhoni has one of the finest cricketing brains in modern times, but it’s one thing to have a gut feeling on the field and quite another to read someone’s mind in a press conference and tell a journalist; “I know you are not happy that we won.”
Dhoni’s post-match antics will probably haunt him for the rest of his career and the media will not forget what he resorted to. In fact, all this may lead to more uncomfortable questions and he may have just created an ‘us versus them’ player-media situation.
Dhoni may be beyond advice in cricketing matters, but he’d do well to get a few tips on how to handle himself with the media. It won’t be too much of a task, considering his interactions with the fourth estate are only restricted to either pre or post-match media briefings — very much like only playing limited-overs cricket. It must be remembered that even a big announcement like quitting the Test captaincy — during a Test series in Australia, it must be stressed — was made through a short BCCI press release in December 2014. With that precedent, the journalist, who asked him how long he would be keen to continue playing, was logical.
Indeed, Dhoni can do anything: Bring along his full squad to a press conference (2009 World T20) to deny a story of a rift between him and Virender Sehwag. Zip his lips tightly when asked to comment on one of the biggest controversies to hit Indian cricket (2013 spot fixing) and one that involved his IPL team and has led to the suspension of his beloved franchise for two years. Then, virtually accuse a journalist of not wanting India to win and a few days later, invite an overseas journalist for a ‘fun’ chat less than half an hour after a heartbreaking loss.
MS Dhoni, the incredible all-rounder for you!
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.