In 2011, we pointed out that something’s rotten in India’s team selections.
Many cricketers such as Dhoni and Harbhajan have business interests in talent spotting and management companies. As for Dhoni, he has a clear commercial interest in picking players backed by Rhiti Sports — Harbhajan, RP Singh and Suresh Raina.
Could this explain why Harbhajan was given a long rope despite his horrifically bad form and how RP is back when he wasn’t even part of India’s plans all this while?
Despite the wonderful things that Dhoni has done as captain, it is worrying that some of his selections may have not been influenced by cold, hard cricketing reason. If so, it betrays a cricket-loving public that believes these men represent them, the republic of India, the tri-colour, and not a management firm.
And here’s confirmation that the fears were not unfounded. Economic Times reports:
Is there a conflict of interest between MS Dhoni the businessman and MS Dhoni the Indian cricket team captain? ET investigations reveal that a 15% stake bought by Dhoni earlier this year in the sports marketing firm that manages him has spawned a tangled web of business associations, raising issues of propriety and conflict of interest in at least two situations.
The first situation is in his position as the captain of the Indian cricket team in all three formats of the game. This sports marketing firm - Rhiti Sports Management, set up by Arun Pandey, a close friend and business associate of Dhoni - also manages four other current cricketers: Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh.
This puts Dhoni in the conflicting position where he has a 15% share of the profits earned by Rhiti Sports from managing these four players, even as he opines or votes on them in team selection meetings as the Indian captain. "There is definitely a conflict of interest in this case," says former cricketer Kirti Azad, who was also a selector in 2002-03.
RP Singh tweeted today saying he has moved on. Harbhajan Singh is the other Indian player no longer managed by Rhiti. ET's story also mentions that Rhiti may have been set up with the exclusive intention of managing Dhoni's commercial interests. That is another way of saying that without Dhoni, there would have been no Rhiti. He is the reason the company was set up.
This is how player agencies work.
An agent's job is to get his client -- the cricketer -- sponsorships and publicity. He manages his endorsements, arranges public appearances, fixes media interactions and lets the player focus on what he does best: playing cricket. For his help, the manager gets a 'cut' out of the cricketer's income.
Now, naturally, a cricketer can maximise his income by playing for the country -- that is where all the fame and money is. Current Indian cricketers with graded contracts get a base salary between Rs 25 lakh and Rs 1 crore. This is on top of the additional fee of Rs 7 lakh per Test match, Rs 4 lakh per ODI and Rs 2 lakh for per T20I each player gets. And then there are the endorsements which run into seven, eight and even nine-figure sums.
So it is in the interest of the cricketer to play his best so that he keeps getting selected for the Indian team. But this is where the picture gets muddy.
If Dhoni is a part-owner of Rhiti, it is naturally in his interest to push for the selection of players managed by Rhiti. And Dhoni obviously has a say in who makes the team and who warms the bench. The more these players represent India, the higher their incomes become. By extension, Rhiti's income get higher, and since Dhoni owns Rhiti, his income also increases.
If so, it explains many things.
It explains why an unfit, out-of-form RP Singh was pulled out of his vacation in the US to report to the Indian team at the Oval where he proceeded to bowl what Ian Botham called the worst over in the history of Test cricket.
It explains why Dhoni continued to defend Harbhajan's shambolic performances over the last few years and kept him in the Indian team while several deserving young spinners toiled away without getting an India cap.
It explains why Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina got into the Test squad despite their visible lack of skill or technique for that level.
And all these conflicting interests may even explain why Dhoni keeps quiet at press conferences where he is quizzed about the involvement of a Chennai Super Kings team owner in illegal gambling.
He is not only the captain of that team, he is also the vice president of India Cements, the company that owns the team. He is therefore an employee of N. Srinivasan, who owns India Cements.
So who is Dhoni accountable to? To the fans of the country who want to know whether the cricketers they worship as heroes are clean? Or to his boss at whose instructions he will keep quiet, because speaking out in the interest of Indian cricket is not in the best interest of India Cements.
Dhoni has failed to make full disclosure of the fact that his commercial interests impair his judgement as the captain of the Indian national team. He has put his self-interest above the team's interests. And for this, he should step down.