Steve Smith and MS Dhoni combined for an unbeaten 44-run stand to take Rising Pune Supergiant over the line against Mumbai Indians in a last-over finish in their opening match of the Indian Premier League’s 10th season.

Smith deservedly won the man-of-the-match award for his superb unbeaten 84 off 54 balls. Along with Dhoni, the Australian also shared two half-century partnerships with Ajinkya Rahane (60) and Ben Stokes (21). Needing 13 to win off the last over, Smith hit two consecutive sixes off Kieron Pollard to help RPS achieve their target of 185. Dhoni was unbeaten on 12 off as many deliveries.

The post-match discussion should have been about Smith’s continuing rich vein of form, which saw him plunder 499 runs in four Tests against India prior to the IPL, albeit in a losing cause. The Australian is currently one of the best batsmen in the world across formats, and RPS have a genuine match-winner as captain.

Smith ‘overshadows Dhoni’

However, that wasn’t enough. After the match ended, Harsh Goenka, the chairman of RPG Enterprises and brother of RPS owner Sanjiv Goenka, tweeted the following: “Smith proves who’s the king of the jungle. Overshadows Dhoni totally. Captains innings. Great move to appoint him as captain. (sic)”

The tweet has since been deleted, but not before it did the damage. RPS’ decision to appoint Smith as captain this year, after a poor first IPL season in 2016, in which the Dhoni-led team finished second from bottom, had not been a popular one.

Dhoni is one of India’s most successful captains ever. Apart from leading India to two World Cup wins, he has also captained the suspended Chennai Super Kings to two IPL titles and five finals. Sacking a man with such an impressive resume was bound to come with some backlash from fans, but the RPS management was still well within its rights to do so.

It is highly likely that this will be Dhoni’s final season at RPS. CSK owner and former BCCI President N Srinivasan has said on more than one occasion that Dhoni will mostly be back in the yellow jersey from next season. This could have been one of the reasons RPS sacked Dhoni as captain, looking ahead to the future.

However, when a senior management figure, not least the owner’s brother, publicly derides its own player while trying to justify its decision, it comes across very poorly. Goenka should have just congratulated his team for the win and praised Smith’s “captain’s innings”. Was there really a need to say that Smith “overshadows Dhoni”?

Goenka isn’t the only RPS figure who has publicly taken sides. In the post-match press conference, Rahane was also asked to compare the captaincy of Smith and Dhoni. The India international began his response diplomatically but then went on to specify who he thought the best leader was.

‘For me, Dhoni is still the best’

“See, it’s very difficult to say right now because this was my first game under Smith,” Rahane said. “I’ve played under Mahi [Dhoni] bhai’s captaincy and we all know he is a world-class leader. I think people should not compare Smith and Dhoni’s captaincy. He is still a world-class player, MS Dhoni. If you saw, he was giving inputs to Smith [on the field]. Yes, Smith obviously did well for Australia, but for me MS Dhoni is still the best leader. This was my first game under Smith and he’s learning from Dhoni. I was watching them, he was taking advice from Dhoni. He would like to take more advice from Dhoni in the coming games.”

It is not surprising that Rahane considers his compatriot Dhoni, whom he has played under a lot more, the better leader. But by saying so publicly he is only implying that either there are two camps in the RPS setup, or that the players do not agree with the management’s decision on captaincy, or perhaps both. Rahane could have stopped at saying it’s difficult to compare their captaincy, but by stating his favourite and pointing out that Smith takes Dhoni’s advice, he is not doing either of them, or his team, any favours.

Public relations and RPS don’t go well together. From naming the franchise after the owner’s company’s initials, the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, to dropping the ‘s’ from Supergiants after the team’s failure last season, to spending Rs 14.5 crore out of their available budget of Rs 17.5 crore on Ben Stokes, an overseas player who will mostly miss the second half of the season because of international duty, RPS haven’t had the best of media coverage in the build-up to this season.

Now, with the players and management making their difference in opinion public, the focus has already shifted away from on-field performances. Pune have started their season well, with a fantastic win, fuelled by their in-form new skipper. But these petty off-field skirmishes could end up derailing their campaign.