India skipper MS Dhoni’s relationship with the media has hardly been smooth. Dismissive replies and sarcastic one-liners are common if one were to sit through his press conferences.
His outburst to a pointed question in Bengaluru after India’s win against Bangladesh was the first instance in the World T20 when the skipper lost his cool while dealing with the media.
On Thursday, he resorted to a bizarre bit to fend off an uncomfortable question. Following India’s semifinal loss to West Indies, Australian journalist Samel Ferris from cricket.com.au asked him about his plans for the future after the WT20.
“You have achieved pretty much everything in cricket. Would you like to continue playing on?” Asked Ferris. Dhoni smiled and invited Ferris on to the podium. A serious media conference suddenly took a turn for the absurd. Dhoni put his arm around Ferris as the Australian sat down next to him.
“Do you want me to retire?” Dhoni asked Ferris. “Do you think I’m unfit, looking at my running?” Dhoni continued. “Do you think I can survive until the 2019 World Cup?” “Ummm.. Ya sure,” said Ferris, who was clearly put in an awkward situation. “Then you have the answer to your question,” Dhoni concluded as the audience to this theatre of the absurd burst out in confused laughter.
But, he was not finished. “I was hoping I was asked that question by an Indian media person. I would have asked him if he had a son or brother who he wanted to bring into the side in my place,” added Dhoni. “You fired the wrong ammunition at the wrong time.”
To be fair, Dhoni has been addressing that query for a while now. After he shocked fans with his decision to retire from Tests during India’s tour of Australia last year, there has been speculation about his future in limited overs cricket.
However, considering it was the end of the road for India in the World T20, it did warrant a query. Cricketers nowadays tend to exit after the end of a landmark event. It was a question every journalist in that room wanted to ask. And Dhoni, it appears, was prepared to pounce on anyone who did.
He did it with a smile and there was plenty of laughter. However, from his tone he hardly appeared to be happy with the question. For someone in Dhoni’s position who has been in charge of the team for a decade now, dealing with the press should come naturally. Both questions could have been fended off by a simple yes or no answer. No one would have complained.
By ridiculing and questioning someone’s intentions (in Bengaluru) and attempting to embarrass a journalist for doing his job (in Mumbai), Dhoni seems to have set a wrong precedent.
India cricketers are a protected lot. Compared to all international teams they interact the least with the media. Instead, India cricketers now largely only speak to the board’s media website, where pointed questions are non-existent.
In the rare occasions where these players do attend a press conference, they hardly speak their mind, blurt out diplomatic answers or just refuse to answer citing directives from the board.
Someone like Dhoni, who was captain of the Chennai Super Kings, a team whose official was indicted for betting, can be asked far more uncomfortable questions. The fact that he has not once addressed the issue can be ignored as it is his choice to speak about it or not. But, as journalists it is our job to ask what is uncomfortable. The least our cricketers can do is be dignified enough to address the query in a respectful manner.
From allegations of doctoring wickets to cases of conflict of interest, Indian players have never really addressed any important issues pertaining to cricket. They say they want to focus on the game. Ask one about retirement, and it appears even that is deemed an uncomfortable question now.