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Ranjib Biswal was a solid first-class allrounder, one of India's youngest members of parliament, a newspaper editor, and now has a tough new challenge
September 29, 2013
The IPL's new chairman, Ranjib Biswal, is known to be an N Srinivasan loyalist, but there is more to him. He has captained Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Vinod Kambli and Ajay Jadeja. He led that team to the Asia Youth Cup triumph in Dhaka in 1989. He scored five first-class centuries and took 153 wickets when he played for Orissa and East Zone. He didn't get to play for India, but he has managed teams that have won the World Cup, the Champions Trophy, the Asia Cup, and the one that drew a Test series in South Africa. At 43, he isn't much older than some of the players he has managed on tour; there are 42-year-olds playing the IPL.
A year before he retired from playing, Biswal was the third-highest on the wicket-takers' list in Ranji Trophy, the highest from his zone. Soon after that season, at the age of 25, he told his father he was going to contest the parliamentary election. His father laughed.
The father was supposed to know these things better. Basant Biswal himself was a former deputy chief-minister of Orissa. He was nicknamed "Super CM" when he was JB Patnaik's assistant in the early 80s. Ranjib, though, went on to win the election from Jagatsinghpur. This was no mean feat: he hadn't entered the parliament through Rajya Sabha where you can go through just a nomination; he had won a general election. The parliament at that time recorded him to be a "sportsman" and an "executive" in Steel Authority of India. He is one of the youngest MPs India has ever had.
Biswal kept playing cricket, but soon he seemed to realise domestic cricket wasn't big enough for his ambition. "I had done exceedingly well in domestic cricket, and was the highest wicket-taker for the two consecutive years," he told the Kolkata-based Telegraph. "However, I was not selected for the national team. My cricket was not taking me anywhere, so I called it quits."
Not that all his cricket had been about "getting somewhere". Pravin Amre, another of his team-mates at Under-19 level, remembers a helpful and fun colleague. "He was a very useful allrounder," Amre says. "A very good person. Very helpful nature. A balanced individual. "I remember when we went to Australia in 1988, we didn't get hotels and all. We stayed with an Australian family, the two of us, and he took very good care of me when I fell sick for more than four days."
When Biswal first won the Lok Sabha election, the parliament noted he had travelled to Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand and the UK. On these travels, he began to collect stamps. Now he has about 3.5 lakh of them, a significant proportion of which are cricket ones even though India doesn't do stamps for its cricketers.
"It's organised country-wise in albums, which take up a huge space at home; nearly an entire cupboard," Biswal once told ESPNcricinfo. "I've got Bradman, Frank Worrell, Garry Sobers … [In] India we don't have stamps on the cricketers, basically the stamps are from England, West Indies, Australia, who come out with commemorative stamps."
Biswal stayed in touch with cricket administration even as he dabbled between politics and editing an Oriya daily, Samay. In 2005, he was back in active cricket when made a member of the national selection committee. His two years there were tumultuous as one of his U-19 team-mates, Ganguly, and coach Greg Chappell had a drawn-out public spat. He began accompanying the team on tours soon after his term as selector ended.
Forget the "lucky manager" tag, when the team and the board were going through a bad crisis after the spot-fixing controversy, when the players were vulnerable and susceptible to saying unwanted things, the BCCI went to the manager that had the record of putting players at most ease. As a manager, Biswal brought the authority to not blindly follow the BCCI directive. Even during gag orders, for example, he could allow players to do the odd interview if he was assured nothing sensitive would be discussed. The players respected him in return.
However, he had loftier goals than being team manager, although he loves to travel and keeps a count on the number of countries he has visited. Around the last AGM, Biswal was all set to be named the BCCI secretary before losing out to a bolter, Sanjay Jagdale. Reportedly it was his fellow Congressmen in the board who didn't want to see him progress so much so soon.
Biswal was then given the National Cricket Academy job, which now has gone to Kerala's TC Mathew. Now Biswal has a job that is coveted and high-profile at the best of times, but he has his task cut out here. The image of the IPL needs repairing after what went down last year, and also the next IPL will clash with what Biswal kind of excelled at: the general elections. Then there are rules that need to be drawn up for the mega-auction in 2014. The next year is a good time for Biswal to show he is not there just because he is a Srinivasan loyalist.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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