1983 was the year that heralded a tectonic shift in the cricketing world. Rank underdogs India made a mockery of the 50:1 odds offered against ‘Kapil’s Devils’ by London bookies to lay low the mighty West Indies and lift the Prudential World Cup. However, it took some time for cricket observers to realise that the centre of gravity in cricket was beginning to shift irreversibly from traditiol powerhouses like England, Australia and West Indies — both in terms of how the glorious game would be played on 22 yards, as well as how its finces and administration would be conducted. The man who oversaw this transition of the ‘white man’s game’ was Jagmohan Dalmiya, who was the BCCI treasurer in 1983. Within four years, Dalmiya and Inderjit Singh Bindra won the Intertiol Cricket Council’s (ICC) nod to host the 1987 Reliance World Cup in the subcontinent. The time was ripe to capitalise on one-day cricket having become a rage in India, and the organisers sold it as a commercial product, thanks to the razor-sharp business acumen of Dalmiya. Rather than relying on ticket sales and sponsorship deals, selling television rights was identified as the main source of revenue. By the early Nineties, as a liberalising India opened its markets to multitiol companies and its skies to private TV channels, Dalmiya was at hand to capitalise on Indian cricket’s rising brand value. He struck a series of multi-million dollar deals with World Tel and other channels that turned BCCI into the world’s richest cricketing body.
After India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka joined forces to outmanoeuvre England and win the rights to co-host the 1996 World Cup, Dalmiya as BCCI secretary left no stone unturned to make it a resounding commercial success. The TV rights were sold for an eye-popping 14 million dollars, the Wills group coughed up 12 million dollars to be the title sponsor and Coca Cola paid 3.8 million dollars to be the tourment’s official soft drink. Thanks to the ICC’s constitution, it was not in a position to profit from this World Cup bonza. All that changed the next year in 1997 when Dalmiya used his formidable political skills to take over as ICC chairman. He immediately set about overhauling the ICC, with profit figuring highest on his agenda. He also continued to cultivate his Asian support base by standing up to the cricketing boards of England and Australia, exemplified by his staunch backing to Shoaib Akhtar and Muttiah Muralitharan facing chucking charges, as well as according Test status to Bangladesh in 2000. After becoming BCCI president in 2001, Dalmiya faced down the South African cricket board and the ICC in the ‘Mike Denness affair’, which saw match referee Denness pelising Sachin Tendulkar for ball-tampering and serving out bans to four other Indian cricketers for dissent. Dalmiya made it clear that India, with its fincial muscle acquired from the market it provided due to cricket’s popularity here, will not be taking things lying down when it came to cricketing matters.
The rise of Saurav Ganguly as Team India skipper from 2000 saw Dalmiya at his peak, directing the fortunes of BCCI and the Bengal cricket board (CAB). But he met his nemesis in Union minister Sharad Pawar, backed by a powerful group including N Srinivasan and Lalit Modi. After the BCCI expelled him in 2006 for alleged misappropriation of funds, Dalmiya not only fought a long legal battle to clear his me, he was back again at BCCI’s helm from 2013 after Srinivasan had to step aside due to the Supreme Court’s tough stand against ‘conflict of interest’ in IPL cricket. Indian cricket has moved on from the base Dalmiya built, ufraid to use its clout in intertiol cricket, but also drawing much flak for propagating money power, glamour and ultra-tiolism. Cricket purists have been turned off by this toxic mix at full display in the one-dayer and T20 cricket razzmatazz, with the underworld making its entry through bookies and match fixers. Jagmohan Dalmiya made Indian cricket profitable and conscious of its power. His successors have had a mixed record in carrying forward that momentum, while miserably failing to clean up cricket from its excesses. Dalmiya’s sudden demise may yet trigger a bitter succession battle in the coming days between Srinivasan’s proteges and the faction aligned to BCCI’s secretary Anurag Mathur. Testing times are at store for Indian cricket administration, and how it weathers it will determine whether cricket will regain its lustre as a clean, if not a gentleman’s, game.