Ravi Nyayapati –
Since its inception in 2008, there has been prolonged public dispute on one or more issues ranging from player exclusion (from Pakistan), allegations of spot fixing by international players (Shanthakumaran Sreesanth) and celebrity misbehaviour at match venues (Shah Rukh Khan). However, having team owners of franchises tainted has to be a new low in cricket, especially IPL.
On July 14, a three-member panel headed by former Chief Justice RM Lodha suspended Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and the Rajasthan Royals (RR) for two years.
It is difficult to make sense of the background to this episode. Gurunath Meiyappan of CSK, one of the key accused, was in charge of the most popular and perhaps the most profitable team of the tournament.
Indian captain MS Dhoni and his team CSK represent two distinct and highly successful commercial entities, including CSK, the multi-million dollar franchise, and Brand Dhoni, the highest paid sporting asset in India.
As if that were not enough, Meiyappan’s father-in-law, N Srinivasan, happened to be the president of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) at the time of the scandal.
Astonishingly, Srinivasan still remains in charge of the International Cricket Council (ICC) besides facing a Supreme Court ban in his own country from assuming any cricket role.
CSK has been the best performing team of the tournament making the finals a remarkable six times in the eight years it has run.
So why would Meiyappan hook up in fixing games? And if he did, where are the details of matches and who colluded with him?
The public has been starved of more information.
In the case with the RR games in 2013, all details were provided.
At that time, Sreesanth and two other RR players were arrested mid-season for spot fixing, kicking off a series of subsequent arrests, including that of small-time actor Vindoo Dara Singh, who subsequently proved to be the whistle-blower for the current debacle that led to the arrest of Meiyappan and diamond dealer Raj Kundra, owner of the Royals.
What I failed to understand was how this fixing can involve no players at CSK.
With RR, the players visited jail cells before the owner did.
In CSK’s case, Meiyappan seems to be a loner. Who did he conspire with? Are we yet to see some news on this? More may unfold over the coming months but for now many questions remained unanswered.
The other aspect of this ban is the commercial reality of two IPL seasons taking place without the participation of CSK and RR, and without the likes of Dhoni and McCullum on TV screens.
The Dhoni brand
Dhoni still endorses 18 major brands and was listed by Forbes last year as the world’s fifth most valuable sportsperson brand at US$ 20 million. The London School of Marketing last month listed him as the ninth most marketable brand in the world.
Will this verdict diminish the value of Brand Dhoni?
Dhoni no longer plays test matches and will not play IPL till 2018.
His closeness with N Srinivasan is publicly awkward. His One Day International (ODI) form has been far from the explosive style he once displayed.
Logic would suggest a drop in endorsement fees.
However, with all the fanfare, IPL actually runs for a very short stint in the calendar year.
Dhoni still remains India’s ODI Captain and besides Virat Kohli, none of the other players threaten to upstage the popularity that Dhoni and Kohli command currently.
So Dhoni may very well be cushioned during the isolation window over the next two IPL seasons. But as a franchise, CSK may have a different challenge.