It was December 2006. Jagmohan Dalmiya looked shaken as he spoke to this correspondent, sitting in his cosy Theatre Road office. He was pale and a little distraught. “I’m clean as a whistle. I will fight…” his voice choked.
He had just returned from a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) special general meeting in Jaipur that had decided to expel him from the set-up by a 29-1 mandate. The charge against him was an alleged misappropriation of ‘PILCOM’ (the organising committee of the 1996 World Cup) funds. Even an arrest warrant was issued against him. Ouster from his own association, Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), followed.
Legal recourse was the only option available, but what chance did he have against a combined attack from Sharad Pawar, N Srinivasan, IS Bindra, Shashank Manohar, Lalit Modi and Niranjan Shah? On that mid-winter afternoon, everything appeared to be lost. The former BCCI and ICC president was staring at a very uncertain future.
But what a comeback! After the Supreme Court barred Srinivasan from contesting elections, Dalmiya became a consensus candidate almost by default. As both Srinivasan and Pawar found out, they didn’t have an alternative. “Those who had once expelled me from the BCCI are now cheering for me,” Dalmiya said with a hint of sarcasm after he was elected for the top post. The comeback king has risen from the ashes.
Exonerating himself of all charges in the court of law in mid-2007 was a legal victory. He returned to take charge of CAB in 2008, edging past Prasun Mukherjee in a bitterly-fought run-off. Dalmiya had to withstand an assault from then Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as well. But he won.
However, this is his real redemption. He’s now the only man in the recent history of Indian cricket to become BCCI president for two separate terms.
Without Biswarup Dey’s help, however, this wouldn’t have happened. As differences between Pawar and Srinivasan in the BCCI became a chasm, the CAB treasurer worked overtime to bring Dalmiya back to the fold. He played the role of a mediator to perfection to ensure Dalmiya regained lost ground. Dey can now bask in reflected glory.
“All I wanted to see was Jagu-da’s (Dalmiya) honour restored. Between 2005 and 2010, it was a very difficult time for our association. We had been humiliated. The iconic Eden Gardens was dropped to number 22 in the BCCI’s list of international venues. In 2011, the marquee World Cup fixture between India and England was taken away from Kolkata. We don’t begrudge anyone, but the scars remain,” Dey recalls.
The 74-year-old Dalmiya, though, faces some big challenges. Priority number one is ‘operation clean-up’. BCCI’s image has been tarnished almost beyond repair following the IPL spot-fixing controversy in 2013. The new president’s job would be to plug the loopholes.
During his four-month stint as interim president in 2013, Dalmiya had drawn up a 12-point programme to clean up cricket. It’s time to implement the clauses now.
Dalmiya was successful in restoring BCCI’s credibility when he took office for his first stint in 2001. Indian cricket had been reeling from Cronje-gate with several of its top players, including Mohammad Azharuddin, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Jadeja and Ajay Sharma, implicated. Dalmiya ruled with an iron fist. He was younger and a lot fitter then. Is he up for the task now? “Yes, he has grown older. But you can’t count out his experience,” says Dey.
Also, there’s that sensitive issue of Article 226, which makes the cricket board a public body. In its IPL spot-fixing verdict, the apex court has made BCCI “amenable to the writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India”. The board members resented it when they had assembled for a working committee meeting in Chennai on February 8. “From now on, every decision taken by the board can be challenged in the court of law. So we are staring at a possibility of spending half the year in legal wrangles. Cricket will take a backseat. Also, this is a serious threat to BCCI’s autonomy. We must move a review petition before a constitution bench, challenging the verdict,” observes a top office bearer from a South Zone unit. Dalmiya, however, has to tread carefully, as the cricket-loving public has welcomed the Supreme Court order.
Over to on-field action now. With Dalmiya in charge, there’s a real possibility that Team India will start taking Test cricket seriously again. The veteran administrator is a Test cricket man and during his first stint in charge, he had made it imperative that India improve on the road. India’s overseas performance in the longer format has been dismal of late—only one win and 15 losses against top opponents in the last four years. Resurrection is the order of the day. The Dalmiya-Sourav Ganguly partnership had worked wonders at the turn of the century. It would be interesting to see how he forges an association with the young and, at times, a little over-aggressive Virat Kohli.
The Decision Review System (DRS) is another major issue that needs to be looked into. For so long, India have been going against the tide. It’s time to embrace technology now.
The ongoing tussle with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is a matter of concern as well. The BCCI has slapped a $42-million damages claim on its Caribbean counterpart for leaving mid-tour last October. Dalmiya has traditionally enjoyed a fantastic rapport with WICB presidents. Will he act tough? West Indies cricket needs to be taught a lesson.
Finally, we come to his working relationship with the newly-elected secretary Anurag Thakur. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association chief and BJP MP represented Pawar’s panel at the AGM. Dalmiya was said to be Srinivasan’s nominee, though he was elected unopposed. Can they work in tandem? “Why not? Both are independent persons, experienced administrators and men of integrity,” says former BCCI president Shashank Manohar.
Back after over a decade, this could be a whole new ball game for Dalmiya. Cricket has undergone a sea change in the past 10 years and Dalmiya’s success will depend on his adaptability.