Mahendra Singh Dhoni played football, batted in the nets, participated in a fielding drill and even playfully knocked over Yuvraj Singh at the end of India’s practice session on Thursday.
A couple of hours after the Supreme Court proposed the suspension of the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals from the IPL and heard that MS Dhoni had tried to mislead the Mudgal committee about the role of team official Gurunath Meiyappan, the Indian team trained at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on the eve of their Super-10 match against Bangladesh.
Dhoni, predictably, skipped the pre-match media briefing. It is not mandatory for captains to address the media before and after a match, but the decision to send Rohit Sharma helped Dhoni avoid commenting — or giving a straight-faced “no comments” remark — on an issue that is taboo when players speak on record.
Skipper skips PC
There are seven CSK or RR players in the India squad, but Sharma, who plays for the Mumbai Indians, is not one of them. By presenting him before the media, the team management sought to ensure that the focus remained only on the World T20. And away from the skipper who had his integrity questioned by the country’s apex court.
These discussions are, of course, heavily moderated. Questions are typically restricted to the World T20, or the press is informed that the captain is not required to be present at interactions unless India loses, and so on.
It didn’t make Sharma’s task much easier, though, as he had to field some tough questions from the media. It was a foreign journalist who tried to get Sharma to talk on the controversy brewing back at home. “It’s important for us to focus as we have a big job on our hands right now. When we came here, we were determined to win the tournament.
We won two out of two games, which is a good sign and tomorrow is another crucial game for us. At the moment, focus is on tomorrow’s game which is important for us to win,” Sharma deadpanned.
A couple of minutes later, a similar question was posed. “How frustrating is what is going back home in the IPL. Have the players discussed this?”.
“Not at all,” he replied. “As I said, before, focus is on World T20, it’s an important tournament for us. We have a big job to do tomorrow and we are focused on that. Not at all (do we discuss the IPL controversy),” Rohit said again.
There were a few cricketing questions — some pertinent, some banal — before the subject resurfaced. But Sharma played with a straight bat each time.
This was not too different from when Dhoni, who had appeared for an interaction before the game against Pakistan, was asked a few uncomfortable questions earlier in the tournament. The captain had predictable brushed off the questions, saying the focus was on the next day’s game. Since the IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal broke, Dhoni has refrained from making any comments on the issue. Rather it is the elephant in the room for Dhoni and his teammates.
Head in the sand
Ahead of the Pakistan game, Dhoni was asked how difficult was it to focus on cricket with ‘everything that was happening around him’. Dhoni smiled and turned his head around in both directions and asked: “What is happening around me. Tell me.” He then went onto add: “You have to keep your focus. Especially when you are part of the Indian cricket team, there are plenty of things that go around you so irrespective of whether you are doing well or not so well on the field, so I think it is a big part and parcel of Indian cricket. I think most of the players are quite used to it.”
On Thursday, as the future of two IPL teams came under a cloud and questions about his integrity raised in a court, the league’s biggest star, chose to remain incommunicado.