The man who put the BCCI on the path to riches

His resilience combined with the ability to bounce back when down made Jagmohan Dalmiya the comeback man of Indian cricket. By S. Sabanayakan.

With the demise of Jagmohan Dalmiya on September 20, Indian cricket has lost an administrator par excellence. The loss has created a huge void in the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) which will be difficult to fill.

The 75-year-old administrator from Kolkata, who first came into the BCCI in 1983 as its honorary treasurer, died as its president serving the second term. In between, Dalmiya strode the cricketing world virtually like a colossus, changing the face of the sport at the global level with his business acumen.

It was the veteran administrator of Kolkata Maidan, B. N. Dutt, who first noticed the rare administrative talent in Dalmiya.

Dalmiya, who at best was a club-level cricketer, starting with Jorabagan Club and National AC — both second division teams — during his formative years, played the game for more than a decade and a half without making any impact. He was a wicketkeeper and an opening batsman.

“The early demise of my father meant I had to take charge of his construction business at the age of 18 and my ambition to become a cricket player went up in smoke. I wanted to be associated with the sport so I decided to become an official and came under the fold of the ‘king maker’ of those days, Mr. Dutt,” he told this writer in 1996.

Mr. Dutt unleashed Dalmiya, who by then was the secretary of the CAB (Cricket Association of Bengal), at the Bangalore AGM of the BCCI in 1983 where he dissected the Board’s accounts and posed several questions to the then treasurer, M. A. Chidambaram, who had no answers. Dalmiya was then elected to the post of the BCCI treasurer.

“That the Board did not have money to even felicitate the Prudential World Cup-winning Indian team in 1983 shocked me no end. I decided to do something about it,” he said during that interview.

While serving the Board under N. K. P. Salve, who brought the 1987 Reliance World Cup to India, Dalmiya along with a young bureaucrat Inder Singh Bindra took charge of hosting the mega event. It was a grand success.

Dalmiya’s next big success came when he broke the hegemony of Doordarshan. This turned Indian cricket on its head. The State-run Doordarshan used to demand money to telecast cricket matches on its channel. Dalmiya on the other hand thought Doordarshan should pay for showing live the cricket matches. Armed with the Supreme Court’s verdict on bidding, Dalmiya, for the first time, sold the rights to a private TV channel and thus began the marketing of the game in India. The Hero Cup in 1993 was a real marketing coup.

Dalmiya’s vision, intelligence, sharp memory and courage helped him to plan and execute many monetary deals that put a pauper Board on the path to riches. As the convener-secretary he, along with Bindra, organised the 1996 Wills World Cup in the Indian sub-continent successfully despite Sri Lanka being ravaged by internal strife.

When there were doubts about security, Dalmiya ensured that matches were played successfully in Sri Lanka to tell the world that everything was fine on the Island.

The success of the 1996 World Cup led to Dalmiya becoming the first ever Indian to head the International Cricket Council in 1997. His vision — globalisation of cricket — took off and today many smaller nations have gained immensely by this move. In fact, Dalmiya wanted cricket to be like soccer.

During his three-year tenure, Dalmiya visualised the ICC Knock-Out tournament — now known as the Champions Trophy — that helped the ICC fill its coffers. During his tenure, India became the cricketing hub of the world, and it continues to be so.

When Dalmiya took over as the President of the BCCI, he created new players in the board politics. He encouraged small States to come to the fore and gained their confidence. Officials from Tripura, Assam, Goa and Andhra came into prominence. Even in Bengal, smaller clubs came out to support him in the CAB when the then State government tried to take over the reins.

When he was suspended by the BCCI over PILCOM accounts and other monetary issues, Dalmiya looked a beaten man. He vowed to return to the chair once cleared. He fought the cases in the court and finally got a clean chit from the Supreme Court.

Dalmiya had told this writer then that his only motivation in cricket was to occupy the top post, even if it was only for a day, to prove that he had not done anything wrong with the Board’s accounts.

That opportunity came when he was asked to head the BCCI after the then President, N. Srinivasan, stepped down following a Supreme Court ruling to that effect. When he assumed office as the President of the BCCI in March this year for a second term, Dalmiya ought to have been the happiest man.

Health issues cropped up and Dalmiya was not his own self. But he fought on until the end. His resilience combined with the ability to bounce back when down made Dalmiya the comeback man of Indian cricket.