By Sirshendu Panth
At the peak of his career, cricket administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya’s detractors rued that such was the man’s resilience that he had it in him to swim back to the shore if thrown deep into the sea, or rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. The 74-year-old’s almost unbelievable comeback at the head of the country’s premier cricket body has only reinforced the notion.
After losing his almost vice-like control of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) midway into the last decade, the Kolkata-based businessman had to endure court cases, political pressure, corruption charges, arrest and even expulsion from the BCCI, as he seemed helpless and lonely in the face of sustained offensive by a formidable coalition of Sharad Pawar, I.S. Bindra, Shashank Manohar, A.C. Mutthiah, Lalit Modi and N. Srinivasan.
Joining them was the then West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who used all his clout - both political and administrative - to oust Dalmiya from the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB).
But Dalmiya held on to his position in the CAB against all odds, and silently started mending fences with his detractors in the board.
The businessman and ace manipulator pulled off the first surprise when sidelined president Srinivasan pitchforked him to the post of BCCI interim chief in June 2013 after the spot-fixing scam emerged.
That stint was small - lasting only four months - and Dalmiya’s powers seemed grossly limited, but enough to announce to the cricketing world that he could not be written off.
Born in a business family in 1940, Dalmiya was a club-level cricketer. He kept wickets for two teams - Jorabagan and Rajasthan - in the (then) Calcutta cricket league, and switched to cricket administration after hanging up his gloves.
Mentored by then BCCI mandarin Biswath Dutt, Dalmiya cut his teeth in CAB politics, beginning what has turned out to be one of the most chequered and marathon innings in India’s sports administration.
Dalmiya became BCCI treasurer in 1983 - the year India won the World Cup - and later served as its secretary, before becoming ICC chief for three years in 1997.
After continuing as Intertiol Cricket Council chief for three years, Dalmiya was elected BCCI president in 2001. He was all-in-all in the board till his tenure ended in 2004.
Later that year, Dalmiya hoisted his acolyte Ranbir Singh Mahendra as BCCI president in a tantalizingly close election where then union minister Sharad Pawar threw his hat into the ring for the top post.
As the election ended in a tie, Dalmiya gave his casting vote to ensure Mahendra’s victory, prompting a dejected Pawar to remark that the entire process was unfair.
“The umpire was the bowler,” Pawar had quipped after his loss.
Dalmiya then controlled the board by proxy for a year, with Mahendra being a mere puppet. But the Pawar camp fought back by using all means to checkmate Dalmiya at his own game in the 2005 election.
Months later, the BCCI lodged a police complaint against Dalmiya for alleged misappropriation of funds related to the 1996 World Cup in which India was a co-host.
As Dalmiya faced a police probe, the BCCI expelled him in December 2006, that also forced him to step down as CAB president, months after a nerve-wracking election which he had won by defeating the chief minister’s nominee, city police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee.
In mid-2007, Dalmiya was exonerated by the court, and he returned to head the CAB in 2008, by defeating then president Prasun Mukherjee.
However, in the next few years, Dalmiya seemed only a shadow of his former self. He looked old, and his lack of full fitness was talked about in CAB circles.
But the wily cricket administrator bided his time, and the short term as BCCI interim chief brought him back to centrestage, also displaying his wide acceptability in the board.
This time around, Dalmiya seemed to have played his cards well, after the Supreme Court ran out Srinivasan from the race.
Keeping both the lobbies headed by Srinivasan and Pawar guessing his next moves, Dalmiya deftly exploited the hostility between the two to put himself up as an acceptable candidate. At the prime of his career, Dalmiya was known as a trouble shooter par excellence. His convincing powers were such that the joke used to be that he could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He now takes over the reins of the BCCI in challenging circumstances. The spot fixing scandal has taken some of the shine off the IPL.
It will be Dalmiya’s first challenge to clean up the game, while India’s poor performance in several series away from home is also an issue that needs redressal.
His critics say, Dalmiya’s hands will be tied, as he is surrounded by office-bearers elected with Srinivasan’s backing. However, those who have followed Dalmiya’s style of functioning over the years, have no doubt he will be his own man. IANS