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Anand Vasu in Kolkata
November 29, 2005
Just like Steve Waugh never actually said to Herschelle Gibbs, "You just dropped the World Cup, mate" when that infamous catch was put down in the 1999 World Cup, it is entirely possible that Jagmohan Dalmiya never really told an interviewer, "What will I do if I don't control the board?" But that's the story anyhow, and who are we to let the facts get in the way of a good story? One fact there's no getting away from, though, is that Dalmiya will have to answer that question, at least to himself, after the resounding defeat he was handed in his own den by Sharad Pawar.
It's hard to believe that Dalmiya, who is now merely the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, will fade away into the sunset. It's just not his thing to do. As they say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters when a scrap is on. And in Indian cricket's long history, no man has enjoyed a scrap more than Dalmiya. From taking on men he worked with and toppling them, to installing protégés in key positions and knocking them off their perch when his use for them was done, from kicking television channels in the gut to standing eye-to-eye with the International Cricket Council, Dalmiya has done it all.
Now he won't even be India's representative to the ICC. That job has gone to Pawar, unanimously elected by a group that involved Dalmiya. His position as patron-in-chief, a once defunct titular post that Dalmiya singlehandedly revived once his term as president had come to an end, will be one of the first things the new board will review. You can be sure there will be few favours done on that count.
Even if Pawar did want to extend as much as an olive leaf, forget about a branch, to Dalmiya, there are hawks in his camp so vehemently opposed to this that it's hard to see Dalmiya playing any useful role in the running of Indian cricket. On the morning of the election, when one Kolkata newspaper had described recent decisions of the observer as giving him a lift, one long-time Dalmiya hater drew me aside and asked, "What did the observer do, pop Dalmiya a Viagra?" That's the sort of derision with which this brigade, comprising career Dalmiya-bashers like Raj Singh Dungarpur, N Srinivasan, IS Bindra, Lalit Modi and others hold Dalmiya.
And it is not without good reason. Every time he has had the chance, Dalmiya has struck down his opponents with force. Where the tap-tap of a jeweller's hammer may have done the job, he brought down the construction wrecking-ball, and now he is going to find it hard to catch anyone in the opposition who will take a soft line when it comes to him. But these opponents would do well to remember that Dalmiya is not the caricature the media has made him out to be. In many ways he is India's most successful administrator, and even those that hate him must not be blind to this.
That he was unidimensional in his success - he equated it to the bottom line to the exclusion of everything else - will always be held against him. After joining the board in 1979, and slowly working his way up the ladder, Dalmiya, along with IS Bindra, fought off Doordarshan and the Telegraph Act and claimed a rights fee of US$ 40000 for the 1993 home series against England. Up until that series Doordarshan had to be paid a telecast fee. He headed the organising committee of the 1996 World Cup and sold the rights for US$ 10 million. Now, the rights for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups have been sold for a massive US$ 200 million. When he took over the ICC, the world's body had UKP16000 in its coffers. When he left the ICC had US$ 15 million, and a fresh contract worth US$ 500 million in its hands. If you're going to argue with those numbers, pause a minute and look at the state of other sports in India where penury at best and bankruptcy at worst are the norm.
The Pawar group has come to power on tall claims of being different, of being transparent in administration, of taking money out of the BCCI bank accounts and spending it on the ground in infrastructure. Out of power and out in the cold, Dalmiya may spend a few days relaxing watching his favourite soap operas, savouring a vegetarian meal and sipping a bloodymary. But if the Pawar group fails to deliver on its promises, or makes familiar mistakes and begins to slip up, you can be sure Dalmiya will be off the living-room couch in a flash, licking his lips at the prospect of a scrap, and a return to the mainstream.
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