Imagine you are the head of a team that is going out for an important meeting. In the short period of two-odd years that your team has been around, this meeting could crown you with glory. What is the likelihood of you, as the head of the team – the owner perhaps – publicly saying that one of the senior members of the team is good, but not as sharp as another player?

Not just another player. Your public put-down is of the person who headed the team, was replaced but not removed, and the person being praised is someone who has replaced the senior man.

In most circumstances, this would be a no-no, frowned on by good managerial types who run large organisations, since such comparisons on the eve of a decisive meeting could strain, if not ruin, the internal dynamics of a team. But that is for the touchy-feely HR types, not for leaders of the ilk of Sanjiv Goenka.

Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Goenka said that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who plays for his Rising Pune Supergiant franchise of the Indian Premier League, is one of the greatest minds he has interacted with and the best wicketkeeper in the world. However, Goenka is also supposed to have said that one mind ahead of Dhoni’s is his team’s captain Steve Smith’s.

Shoddy cover-up job

There is an entire parenthetical story that needs to be told about whether these words were indeed said by Goenka or not, and what should we make of news reports based on a news report. The Hindustan Times story reported by Dhiman Sarkar became the source of stories put out by The Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle, FirstPost, and even a website from Goenka’s own city, ABPLive.

The curious thing, however, is that the Hindustan Times story that has been used, and hyperlinked, does not have the crucial newsworthy words at all. The story as it appears, as of writing this article, does leave at least two tell-tale signs that the words were indeed carried in the original version of the story. One, the story has been updated on May 20, 2017 10:34 IST, but it contains comments that are from before this time.

Two, and most revealingly, the URL of the story is, but the reader cannot locate any reference to Smith’s mind being sharper than Dhoni in the body of the article. There is no indication given that a line has been removed from the story, and no reasons offered for such deletion.

Does Steve Smith (left) have a better mind than MS Dhoni? Sanjiv Goenka seems to think so (AFP)

We may guess why this could have been done. The words were not meant to be on the record and the reporter nonetheless carried it, and so he decided to remove it. Goenka may have realised that it was the inappropriate time to say these words even if that is how he felt, and requested the reporter to remove it, with the latter obliging. But all the news websites that have carried this story a day before the IPL final provide the quote as follows:

“MS is one of the greatest minds I have interacted with. And he is the best wicketkeeper in the world. The one mind ahead of Dhoni’s is Smith’s. My brief to Smith was: ‘win the championship’. The first season was a disaster and I wanted it to end soonest, with our dignity intact.”

When you read this quote, which these news websites attribute to Hindustan Times, it is clear that the reference to Smith’s mind being ahead of Dhoni follows logically from the first two sentences. The updated story in the Hindustan Times does not have the third sentence, and uses the next two sentences at two separate places in the story.

Either most of these websites got it horribly wrong when taking the quote from Hindustan Times or the updated version, for reasons best known to the website but without any by-now usual intimation of changes to the reader, deleted a part of the quote and then split the rest up. Possibly the reporter realising that he had gotten everything mixed up to begin with, decided to go back to his notes or recording and set matters right.

There is enough circumstantial evidence here to suggest that Goenka did say these words and he said it to a journalist, and considering the fact that he owns a publication and knows the rather recalcitrant ways of journalists, he should not have thought that it would not be used. Even if we assume that this line was off-the-record, look at his other statements just a day before the IPL final.

“The team got younger, fitter and more energetic. So, we have fielded better. This time, with whom players’ loyalties lay didn’t matter.” Goenka said it took him one year to learn how to control the “fragile egos” of his superstars. “We didn’t want to be like a franchise that doesn’t invest its Rs 66 crore purse and is happy finishing fifth but last year, I didn’t know better.

Fragile egos

The tweets of his elder brother Harsh Goenka towards the beginning of the tournament, and what seemed like Sakshi Dhoni’s response about the cyclical nature of karma, have given enough fodder to the fans. But Sanjiv Goenka’s statements reflect precisely the fragile nature of egos that it seems he has still not learned to control. In this case, his own.

Screenshot of Harsh Goenka's tweet before it was deleted

No one can argue that the owner of a team or the head does not have the right to decide the captain or the team’s composition or determine the method of selection. He is well within his right to think that Smith’s mind is ahead of Dhoni. How he measured the acceleration of Smith’s mind over Dhoni’s considering that the Australian is eight years younger than the Indian would be educational to us all.

Or perhaps it was just a metaphor. What he meant was that Smith’s mind was sharper than Dhoni’s, as the Hindustan Times’s URL suggests. The very use of that metaphor as one mind being ahead of another may lead some to question Goenka’s understanding of how the mind works, and there may be those who could quote all the necessary statistics to show how Dhoni is sharper. But that is beside the point.

Goenka can think what he wants, and as the owner he can decide and do what he wants. But in discussing these issues in the public domain, he is indulging his ego and harming the team. A day before the IPL final, he could have chosen to be silent, not speak of egos, and let the matter rest, especially at a time when the team has much reason to focus. Certainly not make it even more difficult for two members to play together.

Unless this is a sharp-minded mantra: management by creating intra-team rivalry precisely when you want them to play as one. Why choose such a moment to denigrate a much-loved member of your team who could still have it in him to win the trophy? But then denigration is a national pastime in our country, and no reason why Goenka may want to eschew it.

Babu culture

But there is another strain at work here. It is not just about ego. It is about being a babu. What we often forget about business houses in the country and their scions is that they are not very far from the pedhi or the gaddi despite the change in their attire from the dhoti to the suit. The attitudes remain clannish and feudal. The owners want to be treated like demi-gods, and their wish is supposed to be their employees’ command.

In ordinary circumstances this aspect of their style is not visible. These stories are just the usual grist for the corporate mill. Since the servitor is neither financially capable, or if so always craving for more, nor a celebrity, there is no reason to tweet or talk about them. Privately you can treat them as you deem fit, but there is no need to put them in their place publicly. They are not public figures.

Dhoni is different. He cannot be thrown a few crores in crumbs. He could return the compliment. And on any given day, he is a celebrity with greater intrinsic self-made net worth than the owner. So it requires that he be publicly shown who is the boss.

But above all, this just shows bad form. Dhoni may have aged. He is not as bright as India believes. He is a burden not easily cast away in a country that worships its cricketing heroes. All this and more may be true, but there is a way to just let go. Old-fashioned good form. And then even pesky journalists wouldn’t get their sentences garbled.