Second innings

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Jun 9 2013, 07:57am hrs
With a Marwari businessman from Kolkata at the helm, cricket will never be the same again, moaned a section of the British press when Jagmohan Dalmiya replaced Sir Clyde Walcott as the International Cricket Council (ICC) president in 1997. Indeed, the businessman from Alipore, who always had Bengali as his first language, changed the whole landscape of world cricket. The game changed for the better. It became a lot more inclusive. Cricket started to present itself as a true global sport.

The ICC virtually had no money when Dalmiya took over. Three years at the top, he made the organisation affluent. He showed the world how to market the game globally. A whole lot of new sponsors were ushered in. Lucrative television deals were struck. He taught the ICC how to capitalise on its new revenue stream, former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed wrote about Dalmiya in his autobiography, Sticky Wicket. The world body got a voice under him. It also started to function a lot more democratically. The veto powers of England and Australia were scrapped as the organisation started to judge its every full member and the associates on a common platform.

Before that it was always England and Australia who used to enjoy an unfair advantage over the others. Before the 1983 World Cup final, then Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president NKP Salve had asked for just one more complimentary ticket from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and was flatly denied. That was the turning point. The BCCI members took the resolve to quash the occidental ego. Dalmiya and IS Bindra led the charge and within four years India hosted the World Cup. That was the first time when world crickets quadrennial showpiece moved out of the Blighty. That was the beginning of Indias march towards the top. India once again co-hosted the event in 1996 and this time Dalmiya was the organising committees, Pilcom, head. By the time Dalmiyas term ended at the ICC in 2000, the organisation had enough money in its coffers to look after the game well. Cricketers became rich and they welcomed the change. It was time to work his magic in Indian cricket. The onus was on him to make India a global superpower when he became the BCCI president in 2001, defeating AC Muthiah in a bitterly contested election.

For the next four years, he was the games most powerful man in the country. Indian cricket grew with him. The BCCI became the most powerful organisation in world cricket.

Till 2004, Dalmiyas authority was unquestionable. But he also had his enemies within the board. They were getting increasingly restless. Sharad Pawar was the head of the rival faction. He contested the BCCI presidential election in 2004 against Ranbir Singh Mahendra. It was an acrimonious battle. Dalmiya was conducting the annual general meeting in Kolkata and expelled then Vidarbha Cricket Association president Shashank Manohar from the meeting. The fight between Pawar and Mahendra ended in a tie but Dalmiya, as the outgoing president, exercised his casting vote in favour of the latter to thwart the Maratha strongman. I played a match in which the umpire bowled the last ball, Pawar had said after the elections. He vowed to stage a comeback, and a year later, returned in style, sweeping aside the Dalmiya faction in a lopsided contest.

Revenge became the order of the day. Dalmiya was accused of embezzlement and was thrown out of the board. Criminal charges were slapped against him. Dalmiya was arrested and released on bail. He had to leave his own organisation, Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). The one-time czar of Indian cricket became almost a non-entity. The road to redemption was long and painful. It started with his victory in the court of law in 2008, where he was exonerated of all charges. He returned to the CAB, defeating former police commissioner of Kolkata, Prasun Mukherjee, in a tight contest. But the BCCI was still a long way away. N Srinivasan, then BCCI treasurer, never saw eye-to-eye with the Bengal administrator. Manohar, who was the president, was not even on talking terms. Things started to change from 2010 when Lalit Modi was ousted from the board and Dalmiyas support once again became important for the ruling group. All charges against him were withdrawn.

Still, without this IPL-gate, Dalmiya might never have become a key player again. There was no one other than him to take over as the head of the interim arrangement after it became impossible for Srinivasan to continue as the BCCI president. Manohar was the rival factions candidate and apparently had Pawars backing. But the dissenters were heavily outnumbered. Time will tell how long Dalmiya can continue his new innings. The next BCCI AGM is in September and till then at least he is expected to run the show. However, it is only befitting that the circumstances have allowed him to once again make his presence felt in Indian cricket. Someone who laid the foundation of Indias dominance in world cricket deserved to go with a bang, not with a whimper.

At 73, Dalmiya has somewhat lost his drive. Time, too, is not on his side. Also, theres a question mark over how much authority he will actually enjoy. But the great administrator that he is, he knows how to work within the constraints. Indian cricket is facing its biggest ever crisis. And it would be Dalmiyas biggest contribution ever if he can do something to help restore the fans faith in their beloved game. Dalmiya is not known to give up without a fight. The emergent working committee meeting on Monday is his moment of reckoning.