Jagmohan Dalmiya, who was president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) at the time of his death on Sunday, and cricket administration went hand in hand just as much as Sachin Tendulkar and the art of batting.
He had few peers and no superiors as a cricket administrator, not just in India. Not many could match Dalmiya when it came to wheeling and dealing.
Fiercely ambitious, Dalmiya was known to get, by hook or by crook, whatever he coveted. Well, almost. Indeed, there was more to Dalmiya than met the eyes.
He was the first Asian to be appointed the International Cricket Council (ICC) president. A no mean feat by any count, considering how England, Australia and the West Indies used to dominate the ICC affairs.
"Dalmiya ran his election [when contesting for the high profile position of the ICC president] as if it was an American presidential race, energetically wooing the associates, but despite twice winning the vote of the ICC members and defeating Malcolm Gray, he found England and Australia reluctant to accept him. In the end, Dalmiya was accepted, but he has never forgotten the way he was treated," remarked the England-based cricket writer Mihir Bose.
"And Dalmiya can be faulted on many fronts, but even his worst critics will concede that he is a man of great energy and enthusiasm for the game, and prone to err, if he does err, on the side of doing too much rather than too little."
At the pinnacle of his prowess and power he was considered the most powerful and influential man in world cricket. There was virtually nothing that he could not do or achieve. Dalmiya could well have become a star politician, too. He had it in him to be a perfect kingmaker in the great Indian political theatre.
A critic once said there was no greater craftsman or politician in cricket than Dalmiya. "When Dalmiya is with you, he is all for you. But when he goes against you, watch out," warned another.
The general view had been that Dalmiya was a gritty street-fighter with plenty of rough edges. He could be curt, loud and often rude, too. He had no time for idle chat or gossip.
A pukka Marwari, he cashed in on the mind-boggling popularity cricket enjoys on the subcontinent. It was Dalmiya who brought money in Indian cricket and ensured that the BCCI coffers remained full. A master manipulator, he had tasted more success than failure during his chequered cricket administrative career.
Of course, he never claimed to be an angel. Even Aladdin's proverbial magic lamp will not help find one in this Age of Commerce, of which Dalmiya was a leading representative. There were people who liked him. There were people who loathed him. But whatever his failings, proven or suspected, nobody could ever ignore him and his achievements.
A man of vision and independent ideas, Dalmiya always dreamt big. With a heady cocktail of business acumen and skillful political manoeuvre, he achieved things few dare even dream. He brought, in tandem with Inderjit Singh Bindra, the World Cup to the subcontinent, in 1996, when the rest of the countries did everything to deny India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka the honour.
But for Dalmiya, there would not probably have been as much money in world cricket as it is today. He hurried the game into a world of crass commercialism with spiralling sponsorship and television rights, and proliferation of one-day tournaments as part of his vision to spread cricket to every nook and cranny of the globe, far beyond the non-Test playing countries, that is.
Of course, all this may have brought many ills in the so-called gentlemen's game, including mediocre cricket and the menace of match-fixing, but who cares at a time when money is the name of the game.
Bindra, who later fell foul of Dalmiya, had more than once accused his former friend of turning a Nelson's eye to the match-fixing issue and all those involved in it in some way or the other.
"I am privy to certain information to which even Dalmiya does not have access. He is in the total grip of mafia and sharks. Hansie Cronje is a small fish. There are still many sharks. Cronje has emerged as the biggest hero [by blowing the lid on cricket's worst kept secret]. He will save the game," said the former BCCI president soon after the most heinous of scandals hit the game for a six in 2000.
Bindra added in the same vein that Dalmiya would have become a "greater hero" if he, too, made a "confession" like the former South African captain did.
A proud Marwari, he relished the joke doing rounds that if you see a Marwari and a tiger together in a forest, you should shoot the Marwari first!
Dalmiya's career has been dogged by controversies. But the Marwari in him saw in them an opportunity or two to show his mettle as an able, even foxy, administrator. Whether the controversies were related to him, the BCCI or Indian cricket in general, he fought tooth and nail and mostly emerged triumphant.
He was at his best, or worst, according to his detractors, during the first half of the 2000s. The Mike Denness issue, the Virender Sehwag episode, the match-fixing scandal, the television rights controversy, the doubts over India's tour to Pakistan, the Abhijit Kale event… Dalmiya had always had the last laugh.
What tremendous power Dalmiya wielded could be imagined and understood from one incident. Most English players were reluctant, to begin with, to tour India in 2001. However, during an ICC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, he engineered a complete about-face from Lord MacLaurin, the then chairman of England and Wales Cricket Board.
MacLaurin had gone to Malaysia determined to raise serious questions over whether it was safe for the England team to travel to India. But he was a different man, singing an altogether a new tune, when the meeting ended. So much so he caught his own players and administrators by surprise when he announced that the tour would proceed as normal!
Kamran Abbasi suggested that George Bush and Tony Blair should ask Dalmiya for a seminar on coalition-building. Nasser Hussain led the England team. The players returned home after the Test series. But they returned for a triangular one-day series after celebrating Christmas with their families.
Dalmiya, born and raised in the "City of Joy" on May 30, 1940, hailed from one of Kolkata's affluent families. He had a "lifelong" passion for cricket. He played as a batsman (highest score 200) and wicketkeeper for Rajasthan Cricket Club in Kolkata and also represented his university.
Dalmiya, who inherited his father's thriving construction company at the age of 20, had business tricks and strategies flowing in his veins. No wonder, then, that this razor-sharp businessman's world revolved around profits and margins. He appeared to have applied these principles in his role as a cricket administrator, too.
But there was no doubt about his genuine love and concern for the game, particularly Indian cricket. "Cricket is his life," said his wife Chandralekha. In fact, Dalmiya's obsession with cricket was something she learned to live with even before the two tied the knot. "Though he stopped playing cricket a long time ago, his passion for it continues. I have known him since I was three years old. He was my cousin's friend. His love for cricket has remained unchanged."
It was this love, this passion, this obsession for the game that made Dalmiya strive hard to give Indian cricket the respectable image and status it enjoys in the world today.
One of the more endearing things about Dalmiya was that he never resisted progressive measures. In fact, he was all for them. His unfailing support as well as free rein to the former India captain Sourav Ganguly was legendary. And so was his full backing to the coach John Wright, physio Andrew Leipus and trainer Gregory King. They were all foreigners and key players in Ganguly's dream Team India.
Life came full circle for this king of cricket administration on March 2, 2015, when he was reelected president of the BCCI. Dalmiya, who had been shunted out of power disgracefully by the very BCCI nearly ten years ago on charges of misappropriation of funds of the 1996 World Cup on the subcontinent, had reasons to chuckle.
Always a fighter to the core, Dalmiya first challenged the BCCI decision in the Bombay High Court and then in the Supreme Court and was subsequently exonerated as the BCCI was unable to prove allegations of financial irregularities against him.
Two years ago, when the spot-fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League (IPL) broke out, with the board supremo N. Srinivasan finding himself in a mire of controversy, with the Supreme Court keeping a close watch on a chain of events that followed, the BCCI had turned to no one but Dalmiya to bail it out of the crisis and made him its interim president.
But this time Dalmiya returned to the corridor of power just as spectacularly and ceremoniously as he had exited ingloriously after a long and distinguished innings in national as well as global cricket administration.
Whatever Dalmiya's image in the western media, whatever his detractors may have said, he had repeatedly proved his worth and shown what he was capable of.
The future historians will have to place Dalmiya on a par with Kerry Packer for bringing in many new and revolutionary changes in the game and, more importantly, improving the health of cricket and its practitioners in terms of money.
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