December 09, 2005

Chance for Pawar to herald a cricketing perestroika

By H Natarajan

If you want to involve politicians in cricket affairs, then it is better to put the BCCI under government control - Jagmohan Dalmiya, after outsmarted by Sharad Pawar in the BCCI elections.


Dalmiya’s comment takes the cake, bakery and the baker! Was it sudden attack of amnesia that prompted such a comment when his most trusted lieutenants are politicians like Arun Jaitley and Ranbir Singh? There is no denying that the support of the ruling party at the centre played a decisive role in the Union Agriculture minister’s victory, but how can Dalmiya complain when he himself tried to gain support of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in hoisting a Congress nominee to foil Pawar?

Politicians have been around long before Pawar came on the scene with SK Wankhede, NKP Salve and Madhavrao Scindia all going on to assume the highest office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Most Indian sporting bodies seek political patronage. Cricket protected its turf and autonomy from the influence of politicians, but once that changed, politicians were quick to seize the opportunity of holding key position in a high-profile body like the BCCI. And Pawar, the son-in-law of former India leggie Sadhu Shinde, is not a sports ignoramus, having had a very long and close bond with Indian sports.

With the dust and in of the election settled down, Pawar and Dalmiya should work for the common good of Indian cricket and let bygones be bygones. Farooq Abdullah, a former J&K Chief Minister and a Pawar confidant, showed grace in victory when he said: "We don’t want Dalmiya to feel defeated, he has been a great administrator and we want his expertise and hope he will cooperate with us."

Inderjit Singh Bindra, once Dalmiya’s closest allay and now on the other side of the divide, is another to acknowledge the plus side: “I have always maintained that Dalmiya has done a lot of good for Indian cricket and his knowledge and inputs should be used by the board.”

Pawar himself has openly acknowledged Dalmiya’s grasp over cricket administration matters. He visited Dalmiya at his residence and sought his co-operation over breakfast. But Dalmiya neither forgives nor forgets things in a hurry and it remains to be seen if he offers help and co-operation.

Dalmiya’s designations as a cricket administrator may have kept changing, but nobody doubted that once he became all powerful, unchallenged and immune to all forces, he remained that way for most part, till the recent elections when he suffered his first defeat in well over two decades in the BCCI. What Dalmiya said was the Gospel and Gita – the first and the last word. An autocrat in the garb of a democrat. And when the tables were turned, he found it difficult to digest the unceremonious exit from what he increasingly came to increasingly believe was his personal fiefdom.

Dalmiya has his merits and it would be childish to ignore that. He took on the International Cricket Council (ICC) like no other Indian – be it in getting the World Cup to India, taking on English match referee Mike Denness or in winning the ICC presidency. The fact that a Marwari businessman with his own brand of spoken English rose to occupy the highest office of the once exclusive white preserve of the ICC was a monumental achievement that touched an emotional cord with lot of Indians. When he took over the reins of the ICC, it had $37,000 in its kitty and when he relinquished office three years later, it had $11 million in cash. It’s a tribute to his business acumen that he (along with Bindra) brought the World Cup to the sub continent and transformed India into a financial powerhouse for cricket that no country could afford to ignore.

Early this year, the International Journal of the History of Sport (IJHS) named Dalmiya, along with former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch and FIFA President Sepp Blatter, as the three men who shaped and evolved their sport over the 25 years of the IJHS existence. The selection was done by 250 scholars in sports spread across the globe. It was acknowledging the efforts of a man who used his clout and connections to pump in mega bucks to globalise the game.

But like Kerry Packer, who flexed his financial muscle to transform cricket with his breakaway World Series Cricket, Dalmiya’s methodologies also drew widespread discontent and he made powerful enemies in powerful places, both inside and outside the country. There were unsubstantiated mutterings about financial mismanagement and an alleged TV-rights scam.

In the lead-up to the 2002 BCCI AGM, the ambush marketing wrangle saw him face his biggest crisis as cricket administrator. Cornered by both ICC and the players, he insisted that the team sign the contracts – a move that dented his image as a players’ man. Suddenly he looked lonely and beaten like never before as the support he was banking on from friendly board was not forthcoming. Another matter that went against his image as a player-friendly administrator was his opposition to the formation of an independent player's body. With Dalmiya against the concept, few players wanted to stick their neck out and risk their careers.

There was a phase when Dalmiya did look like a visionary and a reformer, but that phase was short-lived. He remained a man of strong likes and dislikes. The BCCI became increasingly unprofessional and faction-ridden. In their naked ambitions to grab or retain their power, elections became a tamasha with a slew of court orders enmeshing the proceedings. The sycophancy and board room machination made Indian cricket a laughing stock.

Pawar leads a team that has some distinguished, passionate and committed men who have the good of Indian cricket at heart. Men like Rajsingh Dungarpur, Bindra, and N Srinivasan have the class, stature, integrity and the vision to introduce reformative changes in Indian cricket. The Pawar team has plenty to do: corporatise the BCCI, get an administrative office that is worthy if its stature, introduce transparency in its dealings, find a sponsor for the team, decide on player contracts, settle court cases, solve the TV rights impasses, get a website of its own, rework the constitution to stay in tune with times, take a fresh look at the composition and criteria to form the selection panel, strengthen domestic cricket and the game at the grass root level and merge the Women’s Cricket Association of India with the BCCI. And not the least, spare a thought for the vast paying public who are treated worse than street dogs because the demand for tickets is more than the supply. BCCI’s apathy in this regard has been inhuman. One only has to see spectators in countries like Australia and South Africa to understand how the Indian cricket lover is rubbished.

To its credit, the Pawar team has made some positive beginnings. They have disbanded the review committee constituted two months ago to ostensibly appraise Chappell’s performance as a coach. Once a coach is appointed for a specified term, he should be given a free reign. It was unfair in asking him to perform with a sword dangling over his head. The new administration also decided to close the Chappell email leak chapter, though some of Pawar’s closes allies had publicly said that the strategic leak was done by Dalmiya or by somebody close to him on his behalf. That the beleaguered Ganguly finds a place in the second Test against Sri Lanka, despite failing with both bat and ball in the first Test, shows that the administrators are not influencing their views on the selection committee. And much against widespread expectations, Sunil Gavaskar was not unseated as head of the National Cricket Academy.

The start has been very encouraging, but a lot needs to bring about revolutionary changes in Indian cricket. Pawar has the chance to go down in history as the man under whose Presidency it all happened. But the road ahead is long and arduous. To borrow a passage from the poet Robert Frost, Pawar has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps.