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The wily old fox

Jagmohan Dalmiya (1940-2015), the Machiavelli of Indian cricket, is no more.  He has left behind a lasting legacy. He will forever be remembered as the man who transformed a moribund BCCI into a money-spinning machine. And what a money spinning machine it has been. That it needed the genius of a Marwari Baniya to do it is no surprise.

A hardcore businessman, Dalmia first ruled cricket-Bengal (CAB), then cricket-India (BCCI) and finally cricket-world (ICC).  In one sense there is a  sad side story to his legacy. After having held the highest office in the world of cricket, he refused to walk into the sunset, beginning once again as the head of CAB. Can you imagine either the President or the Prime Minister of India going back to becoming a MLA or why even an MLC? But then Dalmia was made of a different DNA.

A quick aside: the grand-old man of international cricket was a wicket keeper batsman during his college days, even while his family firm, M L Dalmiya and Co., constructed Calcutta’s very famous Birla Planetarium.  He left his footprints as a cricket administrator than as a businessman.


Top sports administrators...

Dalmiya was a master strategist and an ace negotiator and was instrumental in bringing the 1987 Reliance Cup and the 1996 World Cup to India. He was quick to seize upon opportunities. When the ICC opened the doors to South Africa, India was first off the block inviting the Springboks for a series, thanks to Dalmiya. When Australia and West Indies boycotted Sri Lanka in the 1996 World-Cup, Dalmiya sent in a joint Indo-Pak team to prove the point that the island nation was a safe place to play.  In 1996, the BBC named him amongst the world’s top six sports administrators.

Dalmiya understood both money and opportunism. He transformed Indian cricket into a multi-billion dollar industry, converted the BCCI into a financial powerhouse and broke the England-Australia hegemony in cricket administration. He was fortunate in the sense that India was just opening up its economy and television was becoming the go-to medium. He seized the chance with his two hands, drove powerful bargains and guaranteed humongous money for the Board. In this he was helped in a large measure by Mark Mascarnhas, best known as Sachin Tendulkar’s agent.

If India is today the big daddy of world cricket and in one sense a big bully, a large part of the credit should go to the Marwari Baniya. His angling for the top job in international cricket was the cul-de-sac. In 1997 when he won the election, he ensured that the brown-man had finally bested the white-skins. It was no mean achievement as it heralded the sunset of English administration’s hold over international cricket.


Did little to professionalise work...

But while Dalmiya enriched the coffers of the BCCI, he did precious little to professionalise the administration. That has been his single largest failing as it continues to get run either as a family business or as a cozy old-boys’ club. What mattered most was Vitamin M, money.  

With anything and everything being measured in money, it wasn’t surprising Dalmiya was hounded out of the Board that he had helped grow incalculably rich. The Board slapped charges of misappropriation on him, but the wily old fox won a protracted legal battle. In what can only be called an irony of history, he came back to head the very same Board in 2015.

It must be said to his everlasting credit that even when he was persona nongrata he helped Saurav Ganguly pick an audience with Sharad Pawar after the selectors decided that they didn’t favor Dada.

In  one sense, Dalmia never retired from cricket. In the end when he walked into the sunset, it was only to God’s heaven.

There is a sad footnote to this story. Even as the ashes were immersed, so to say,  his one time protege, Saurav Ganguly, met up with the chief minister of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee to pitchfork himself to CAB president.

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