Beyond the cosmetic
It's hard to miss the irony. Jagmohan Dalmiya's dethronement - ok, it was Ranbir Singh Mahendra, but there was no doubt who pulled the strings - has brought a sense of relief to legions of cricket lovers in India, but how can it be lost on anyone who holds the internal politics of the Board of Control for Cricket responsible for the ills of Indian cricket, that it's a politician who has got the job through a highly political election process?
Dalmiya's ouster had become inevitable, even necessary. But like in the case of Sourav Ganguly, his contributions to Indian cricket should not be forgotten. Just as the Indian cricket team wouldn't have reached where it did without Ganguly playing the role that he did, the wealth and clout that the BCCI has acquired in recent years might not have been possible without Dalmiya. But his inability to let go of the reins when his time was up, depleted whatever goodwill he had earned. While history might accord him his legitimate place, few tears will be shed for him at the moment.
But the real question for Indian cricket is whether the new regime will be, or can be, any different. In his first press conference as the BCCI president, Sharad Pawar promised professionalism. A couple of hours before that, the new regime had recast a committee that has been begging to be professionalised. Out went three national selectors, and it was hardly a surprise that they happened to be Yashpal Sharma, Gopal Sharma and Pranab Roy. They were men who voted Ganguly back into the Indian Test side at the behest, it has been widely reported, of the rulers of the BCCI, and it can be said that they have now been voted out themselves.
Of the men who have replaced them, Sanjay Jagdale is an old hand, and despite his lack of Test experience, served his previous terms with distinction. He should have got the job on merit, but would he have got it hadn't he, in his capacity as a voting member of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, switched loyalties and voted for Pawar? There isn't much to judge Bhupinder Singh (Sr) and Ranjib Biswal by. Like Jagdale, they too might prove that you don't need to have worn the Test cap to judge Test credentials. That will be Indian cricket's good fortune. But the process of selecting the selectors remains politicised and it is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.
But to give Pawar the benefit of the doubt, it can be argued that according to the BCCI charter, all the office bearers had to be selected yesterday and there were pre-poll promises that needed to be honoured. He should therefore be judged on what he does from now on.
Some of the tasks are obvious. The BCCI needs professionalism, a corporate structure; it needs to be accountable and transparent; it needs a media manager and a website, it needs to build cricket grounds and infrastructure and it needs to care about the fans. But if Pawar is serious about making a difference, he will see a much bigger task: in order to achieve what the BCCI must, he should be prepared to reduce the importance of the president's office. Dalmiya showed the world that cricket can be big business, but he couldn't bring himself to run it like one. He concerned himself with, and controlled, every affair of the BCCI and under him, there was no place for professional managers.
Pawar brings with him a reputation for getting things done. He has been a chief minister twice and served in some important ministries, including defence, in the union government. He has a keen grasp over administration and he is known to hold progressive views on reforms and liberalisation. But like his predecessors, he too is hostage to the political reality of the BCCI, and the basic rule of survival in politics is to feed the system from which you derive the power. If Pawar wishes to leave a legacy that goes beyond the cosmetic, he would have to display a vision beyond his own survival. The system does not need a mere coat of colour, it needs to be dismantled and restructured.
Pawar has managed the system to garner the votes, but now he will have to challenge it if he wishes to take Indian cricket forward. In a sense, he is ideally suited for the task. Of all the BCCI presidents in the recent past, he is least dependant on cricket for the sustenance of his public life. What he achieves with Indian cricket can enhance his public profile, but the matter of his reelection wouldn't matter to him as much as it did to Mahendra, a politician of much lesser consequence, or to Dalmiya, a successful businessman who has never hidden the fact that he enjoys the spotlight cricket conferred on him. That he has a much bigger life outside cricket is his biggest strength.
Cynicism is a natural reaction to politicians. Pawar has the opportunity and the wherewithal to change that perception. If he can walk half the talk, Indian cricket will owe him gratitude.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo