Why did Suresh Raina leave the Chennai Super Kings’ camp in the UAE? There have been several explanations, and even Raina gave a statement or two. But none of them adds up. It’s more like a cryptic puzzle. The more you try to decipher it, the harder it gets for me.
A rift with Dhoni over a balcony, an attack on uncle’s family, COVID-19 fears, worries over his young family: they were so many theories. I pored over all the media reports. There’s no clarity. Then there were the N. Srinivasan statements, followed by clarification. It really gets muddier.
The Indian Premier League starts in the UAE only on September 19. There’s already plenty of action, and all of it is off the field. Frankly, we could do without it. I was praying that the players remain free of COVID-19 so that we can see some exciting run chases and the cliffhangers on the field.
Even when the coronavirus infections hit the Chennai Super Kings, I was optimistic. Simply because these players are super-fit professional athletes. They watch their diet and work out even during the off-season. So they can easily shake off a COVID-19 infection. Remember, the virus is only deadly for people with underlying health conditions and the elderly.
For sportspeople, COVID-19 is least of their worries. It doesn’t mean that they should ignore safety protocols. A healthy person, if he or she is asymptomatic, can still pass the viral load to another person. And it can be fatal if that person belongs to the high-risk category. So players must remain in the bio-bubble. It’s very important.
Did Raina have COVID-19 worries?
The successful completion of the National Basketball League in the United States, the English Premier League football, and the Champions League football offer valuable lessons for the IPL. More than anything it gives the confidence to the players and officials that the tournament can be organised successfully.
It’s against this backdrop that we have to examine the Raina episode by going through the timeline of events.
Was Raina worried about COVID-19? If he was, I would blame the officials of the Chennai Super Kings. They should have educated the players on the risks and how to avoid them. That would help eliminate any lingering fears among players.
But I don’t think it’s true. CSK officials certainly would have briefed the players on how to deal with the situation. Remember, they had a preparatory camp in Chennai. Raina attended it. I’m sure some of the discussions would have revolved around the virus issue: the need for vigilance and how to negotiate potential problem areas.
Granted, you can’t prepare for every eventuality. People behave differently in different circumstances. Panic and paranoia cannot be anticipated.
‘Thala’ (leader) and ‘Chinna Thala’ (deputy leader) are thick friends. There can be disagreements among friends, but can it flare up badly enough to warrant a dramatic departure? That too, over a balcony. Is it pure baloney?
If Raina bolted to India to escape the coronavirus, he’s sadly mistaken. The UAE, right now, is far safer than India, where there are record infections every day. The CSK batsman practically went from one quarantine to another. When he comes out of it, he would have to be very careful to dodge the virus, while in the UAE he would have been very secure in the bio-bubble.
He’s cited concerns for his young family. That’s understandable. But it also begs the question, didn’t he think about them before he left for Dubai?
Now the rift with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Thala (leader) and Chinna Thala (deputy leader) are thick friends. There can be disagreements among friends, but can it flare up badly enough to warrant a dramatic departure? That too, over a balcony. Is it pure baloney? We don’t know. Still, it’s a bit difficult to stomach.
What did Srinivasan say?
N. Srinivasan’s interview with the Outlook seems to lend credence to the rift theory. The Chennai Super Kings’ owner made a pointed reference to prima donnas and success going to their heads. While he was effusive in his praise for Dhoni, Srinivasan also spoke of how much money Raina stood to lose.
A day later, Srinivasan struck a more conciliatory tone. He talked of the boys being part of the family. In his statements to the Times of India, Srinivasan said his words were taken of context. The context is always convenient.
Srinivasan is a businessman. A very successful one. He’s not one to make silly mistakes. At 75 years of age, he’s definitely not prone to outbursts. So his words on both occasions carried the weight of his sentiments. His change of tone must have stemmed from his desire to avoid fissures in the camp. Particularly at a time when the turn of events rattled the CSK camp. It required a healing touch, which Srinivasan provided.
Didn’t the CSK Chief Executive Officer Kasi Viswanathan tell us that Raina will not take part in the IPL this season? Will there be a change of heart in the CSK camp?
So again, the question is what’s the Raina story? In his first comments after the flight from Dubai, Raina’s tweets focused on the tragedy that befell his uncle’s family and the trauma of dealing with it. This is tricky territory. He’s fully entitled to be with his family at a time of crisis. This is when we should provide all support to Raina as he deals with this unfortunate event.
Indian media reports say that the attack at the Thariyal village in Punjab’s Pathankot took place on the night intervening August 19 and 20. When the Chennai Super Kings arrived in the UAE on August 21, Raina could have been unaware of the attack. And eight days later he would have felt the pressure of being away from his family at a time of distress. The COVID-19 cases in the camp must have pushed him over the edge.
Rift and row: Are they fabricated?
In an exclusive interview to NDTV on Wednesday (September 2), Raina rubbished reports of a rift with Dhoni. He said all those reports of hotel room row were fabricated. He said Mahi bhai (Dhoni) is his brother and Sreeni sir (Srinivasan) is a father figure.
We know how tightly knit the Chennai camp is. Which is why the balcony theory sounded a bit odd until Srinivasan’s comment.
Now there’s a new twist. Raina has hinted at the prospect of returning to the UAE.
“You never know, you might see me in the camp again. First, I have to take care of my responsibilities here and then am ready,” he told NDTV.
Now that’s got me confused again. Didn’t the CSK Chief Executive Officer Kasi Viswanathan tell us that Raina will not take part in the IPL this season? Will there be a change of heart in the CSK camp?
So, why did Suresh Raina leave? To me, it will remain an enduring mystery. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. I have laid out the sequence of events. Some of them don’t add up. You can make your deductions.