Why Dhoni needs to speak out
There are several reasons why the BCCI might view MS Dhoni's injury-induced absence from the Asia Cup as a blessing in disguise. It's a rare break for a cricketer who plays almost round the year (and plays three roles in each game); it's also a chance for Virat Kohli to prove his credentials as a captain of the national side. This development also removes Dhoni from the firing line of uncomfortable questions - especially those related to the IPL corruption case.
And there are a few uncomfortable questions being asked of the Indian captain. First, the statements issued across the Indian media by a senior Tamil Nadu police officer that link Dhoni's name with allegations made by bookies. It is an assertion the officer, G Sampath Kumar, says he first made in a note to the Mudgal Committee, set up last October by India's Supreme Court to conduct an independent inquiry into, inter alia, the allegations of corruption against Gurunath Meiyappan and Chennai Super Kings team owner India Cements, and with a larger mandate of looking into allegations around betting and spot-fixing in IPL matches and the involvement of players.
Kumar reiterated this statement to several respected Indian media publications, which published them along with documentary evidence from transcripts.
While it is not necessary to give credence to those remarks, though they have dominated prime-time TV shows, Kumar's original statement forms part of the Mudgal Committee's report via an attached note from one of the three members, Nilay Dutta of the Assam Cricket Association. It refers to the testimony of Kumar - then a senior officer of the Tamil Nadu police's internal security division, the "Q" branch - who, while investigating a fake passport racket, "came across materials that indicated large-scale betting in IPL matches".
It's pertinent to reprint what Dutta's note said:
"As per Mr. G. Sampath Kumar, one Mr. Utham Jain @ Kitty had been interrogated by Q branch in his presence and had disclosed, in course of his interrogation, that pursuant to a plan to fix the match between Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, scheduled on 12.05.2013, he was informed … by Mr. Gurunath Meiyappan that one senior member in the IPL team, Chennai Super Kings, had agreed to play as per plan and the team will score 140 runs…"
Dutta then noted that when the committee sought to verify the interrogation report, the Superintendent of Police, Q Branch, appeared before the committee where she "admitted that there was a file in the Q branch pertaining to the case". She gave an assurance that the file would be produced before the committee but it never was.
"The incident is important," Dutta continues, because of Kumar's deposition that "implicated one important Indian player… The non-production of the interrogation report is therefore highly suspicious and there seems to be a deliberate intention to cover up the match-fixing deal." Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Kumar, soon after seeking a more detailed investigation of the fixing angle, was taken off the investigating team and posted to the Railway police in Trichy, a provincial town 300km south of Chennai.
Dutta's recommendation to the court, in bold print, is clear: "A totally independent investigating agency may be directed by the Supreme Court to investigate the allegations with full powers under the statutory laws, including the Criminal Procedure Code, which was not available to the Committee."
The Mudgal Committee's main report offers more fodder for those wishing to question Dhoni and/or expand investigations. It contends that Dhoni was economical with the truth on the matter of Gurunath's role in Chennai Super Kings. Mudgal's report held that Gurunath, son-in-law of BCCI president N Srinivasan, was proved to be a team official of Chennai Super Kings and had indulged in betting and passing on information during IPL 2013, as alleged.
Establishing Gurunath's place in the CSK hierarchy was a crucial part of the committee's mandate because that in turn would point to how far, potentially, the rot could have spread. Was he just an "enthusiast", as his father-in-law famously described him, or did his role correspond more closely with the photographic, electronic and other evidence that suggested he was a central figure in the franchise?
In its report the committee said: "Mr MS Dhoni, Mr N Srinivasan and officials of India Cements took the stand that Mr Meiyappan, had nothing to do with the cricketing affairs of Chennai Super Kings and was a mere cricket enthusiast supporting CSK."
The report then referred to all the evidence it had examined, including the following:
"It came to light that Mr. Meiyappan would be with the team (CSK) during the practice sessions, would be present during team meetings, at the auction table, in the owners dug out, participated in the IPL owners meet, travelled with the team, participated in the IPL owners workshop representing himself to be the owner of CSK and held out to the world at large as the Team Principal/ Team Owner of CSK."
The committee's conclusion was similarly unambiguous:
"The Committee is of the considered opinion that Mr Gurunath Meiyappan formed an integral part of Chennai Super Kings and most persons viewed him as the face of the team. Though the de-jure ownership vests in India Cements, the Committee finds that Mr Meiyappan was in fact acting as a team official if not the defacto owner of CSK."
So more questions for Dhoni: What is the truth about Gurunath? If he was merely an enthusiast how did he enjoy privileges like chat with you on the field of play, sit in the team dugout, and attend IPL auctions? And while in the positions of privilege, what information did he have access to?
Dhoni may - and rightfully so - plead his inability to answer questions on those statements because the matter is sub judice. Yet that is a technicality. Dhoni is no ordinary cricketer; he is the captain of India in all formats, the team's most high-profile player, and arguably the game's highest earner globally. And now he has a cloud over his name, speculation surrounding his motives and methods. It is incumbent that his name be cleared, that the questions are answered.
It is out of step with reality and harmful for the credibility of the world's most powerful cricketer for him to maintain silence. His name needs to be cleared, by him or by his bosses. They will not be in contempt of court if they do so but they could be in contempt of the public if they do not.
Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo in India