My first encounter with Jagmohan Dalmiya was in 1997. I was a cub reporter who had been given the plum assignment of an interview of the newly-elected International Cricket Council (ICC) president. I was iffy, nervous to be precise. I thought I didn’t have a chance with someone of his stature.
But an attempt had to be made. So I gingerly placed a phone call at his direct number at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) fully expecting a refusal. I introduced myself and put forward the request. His reply surprised me: “Speak to Kunal (Dalmiya’s then personal assistant, Kunal Kanti Ghosh). He will give you a date.” Ten days later, I was sitting face to face with him in his office at CAB, obviously a little overawed by his presence. The interview went along well and I started to respect the man who, despite being in-charge of world cricket, didn’t give a young reporter short shrift.
By the time I had reached that stage when I could almost barge into his chamber without a formal appointment in November 2003, I became close enough to call him Jagu-da. Calling on him on that occasion was a reactive action. India under Sourav Ganguly were about to leave for a full tour of Australia and the appointment of a bowling coach had become the main talking point. Dalmiya was then the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and we had a discussion on the issue the evening before. “I will finalise by tomorrow, but don’t write anything now, for nothing has been confirmed yet,” he had said. Next morning, a rival paper came up with a story that Wasim Akram would be the bowling coach. It made me angry and I felt compelled to take my complaint to the BCCI chief. “I might be on very good terms with the Pakistan Cricket Board, but a Pakistani coach for the Indian team, especially in this (political) situation! Apply your senses,” he berated me. I asked him if he had finalised the name. “That tall left-arm fast bowler from Australia, he would be there with the team as a bowling consultant.” I needed no further explanation about Bruce Reid’s appointment. Dalmiya never jumped the gun. He always waited for the last ball to be bowled. “Nothing is confirmed until it is official,” he used to say.
Dalmiya had taken over as the BCCI president in 2001, defeating the incumbent AC Muttiah in an acrimoniously-fought battle in Chennai. Even on the AGM eve, he didn’t have the numbers. But the man was a specialist in performing miracles. He turned the game on its head by bringing in then Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta and securing the late Madhavrao Scindia’s support. He took charge of Indian cricket and ruled with an iron hand for the next three years.
The problem was that his overbearing style had made enemies within the set-up. In 2004, Sharad Pawar decided to contest for the president’s post against Dalmiya’s nominee Ranbir Singh Mahendra. The former lost, as Dalmiya, who chaired the meeting, exercised his casting vote. “I played a match in which the umpire and the bowler were the same,” Pawar said at a press conference at Taj Bengal that took place around 11 pm. Dalmiya should have been prepared for a backlash, but he became complacent and was swept away in next year’s AGM. The politics of vendetta began.
It was the most difficult phase of his administrative career. He was expelled from the cricket board for alleged misappropriation of funds. Even an arrest warrant was issued against him. I met him once at his Theatre Road office during that period. He had suddenly grown older. Dejection had subdued his customary exuberance, but he took a vow to prove his innocence in the court of law. And Dalmiya did that.
His return as BCCI president for a second term (failing health notwithstanding) earlier this year was poetic justice. He was destined to go on a high. The who’s who of Indian cricket—from Sharad Pawar to Shashank Manohar and ICC chairman N Srinivasan—flew down to Kolkata to pay their last respects. Dalmiya deserved it, for he was a revolutionary who shifted ‘the home of cricket’.
To know how he did it, we’ve to go back to the early 1980s when, along with IS Bindra, he initiated a mini coup in the BCCI to sideline the old guards—MA Chidambaram, S Wankhede and M Chinnaswamy. Former Union minister NKP Salve led the Dalmiya faction and eventually became the BCCI president. The 1983 World Cup was the watershed moment for Indian cricket.
Kapil’s Devils had reached the final and an overexcited Salve asked for a few more complimentary passes from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). He was flatly denied. Dalmiya, who was the board treasurer then, took it as a personal affront. It was the time for backroom manoeuvring (creation of the Asian bloc) to wrest power from England’s clutches. Four years down the line, India was hosting the World Cup. For the first time, the quadrennial showpiece was held outside the Old Blighty. In 1996, when the subcontinent hosted the World Cup for a second time, India had already become the new superpower of world cricket.
Dalmiya had to battle on two fronts. First, he had to put his house in order commercially. And he did it in 1993, fighting a vicious legal battle and breaking the state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan’s monopoly over the live telecast of cricket matches in India. The BCCI had to pay DD around R5 lakh per game to telecast the matches. Dalmiya and Bindra brought Trans World International (TWI) ahead of the India-England series. It ensured that the BCCI made a profit of around R3.6 crore. It changed Indian cricket forever.
Overhauling the ICC was also on his agenda. “He taught the ICC how to capitalise on its new revenue stream,” former ICC CEO Malcolm Speed once said. Make no mistake, the two were not the best of friends, but the Aussie had to salute the Kolkata businessman’s administrative acumen. His cricket politics was inclusive.
This correspondent had the privilege of having many an informal discussion with the great administrator. During one of which, my good friend from ABP, Kaushik Das, was also present, advised us to be bold and never be afraid of anything. “Look at me. I’m not a scholar. I can’t speak fluent English. Still, I’ve managed to come this far because I never feared to take on the high and mighty. Be bold and always drive home your point,” he said in a fatherly tone.
Dalmiya left a winner.