Gamechanger's back but game itself has changed
Jagguda is back. Again. At the top of the tree. Not as interim anything, but as Jagmohan Dalmiya, BCCI president, full-time head honcho. Giving rise to chuckle and groans of disbelief in equal measure.
It has been ten years since Dalmiya last held the post, ousted in 2005 by the very men - N Srinivasan and Sharad Pawar - whose cohorts hovered around him over the weekend in Chennai, seeking to draw him to their side. He was apparently even offered the post of patron-in-chief - custom-built for him - but refused, determined to send a message and reestablish his relevance in Indian cricket administration.
It is another reminder that as one of the BCCI's oldest hands, Damilya is instinctively familiar with the board's bizarre election dance. The BCCI constitution had been amended to ensure that presidential hopefuls could jump their zonal loyalties should any zone wish to support their candidature. Yet with this much-deferred 2014 election, Dalmiya has proved in the East there could only be one shogun.
He will, now, not be judged on his past as India's most influential cricket administrator but on what he is able to do from this point on. In a four-month stint as interim president between June and October 2013, Dalmiya made several promises including "Operation Clean-Up", but did not exactly stamp his authority on either the IPL's regulations or the board's general operations.
In many ways, Dalmiya steps into high office in a BCCI that must feel familiar but operates in an environment completely transformed over the last ten years. The Indian game's rapidly expanding economic empire, which Dalmiya and IS Bindra first set in motion, now operates in an age of Twenty20 franchise cricket, the internet and social media. A forward-thinking 20th century cricket mandarin, must now handle a 21st century business.
At 74, Dalmiya's sharpness and energy, which made him an administrator not to be messed with, will be of a lower wattage. He must now be the link between two bitter opposition groups, his favour and approval definitely sought after. Regardless of how much energy he may or may not have to send fur flying, the idea will amuse him greatly. His adversaries have fallen out and once again, like it did in his prime, the BCCI has turned to him. Jaggu the Redeemer.
To those outside India, Dalmiya's return brings a fresh sense of bafflement at the shenanigans of the orient. To those inside his country, it is another reminder that not only do the wheels of Indian cricket move in mysterious ways, they are capable of changing direction with alacrity.
In the pre-Srinivasan-Chennai Super Kings era - it did exist - it was Dalmiya who was the Indian cricket administrator who earned the collective wrath and scorn of the western world. The first Asian head of the ICC, former BCCI president and the founder of cricket's Asian bloc (which the new regime under Srinivasan turned into the Big Four bloc of India Australia, England and South Africa), Dalmiya was considered the scourge of the world game. He was the man, working alongside IS Bindra in the BCCI, who began to generate money for Indian cricket through television rights.
As ICC chief, he headed the team that turned the finances around leading even former CEO Malcolm Speed, with whom Dalmiya had many an arm wrestle, to admit that, "he taught the ICC how to capitalise on its new revenue stream." Dalmiya's prickly presence at the head of world cricket, established without any doubt that the power centre of world cricket had moved east.
Before this repeat renaissance, Dalmiya was last seen at the churning apex of Indian cricket politics in 2005 battling Pawar, Shashank Manohar, Srinivasan and Lalit Modi. Even though Dalmiya was not competing for office himself, the 2005 election was the first time he ended up losing in his quarter-century in cricket administration when Pawar beat Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the man who was in Dalmiya's corner.
He was then deliberately and methodically sidelined by the forces that had ousted him. Expelled from the BCCI, briefly arrested, Dalmiya had cases of misappropriation slapped on him by the new regime and most painfully, his kingdom, Eden Gardens, had to make do with fewer Tests and ODIs. In 2011, he and the Gardens faced what they thought of as the unkindest cut: the India versus England World Cup match was cancelled by the ICC, led at the time by Pawar. It is unlikely Dalmiya either forgot or forgave that slight.
During his prime, he had run Indian and international cricket from his office at the ML Dalmiya headquarters in Kolkata, with his loyal personal assistant KK Ghosh, conducting business through typewriters and landline telephones. He was, until recently, thought of as yesterday's man, 'former' in every sense of the word. In June 2013, he had stepped into the breach at the end of the raucous meeting in Chennai and was appointed interim president. In March 2015, he is full-time president again. The political cycle begun in 2005 has been completed and closed.
Dalmiya and Srinivasan are similar in many ways. They are both, an insider says, authoritarian, patriarchal and look after their own people with favours and largesse. The major difference between the two, however, is the absence of arrogance in one man and its overwhelming presence in another. Dalmiya has the ability to discuss, negotiate and eventually get what he wants. With Srinivasan, discussion is but an abstract noun.
Compared to Dalmiya and his safari-suit-wearing Kolkata persona, Srinivasan appeared very nouveau when he first showed up. Cheques arrived on time for players, meetings were conducted briskly, the man had a dry sense of humour and was kosher businessman - golf-playing, Scotch-drinking, cricket-loving. But by 2013, during the IPL's corruption scandal, the 'tectonic plates shifted' (to borrow a phrase from actor Rahul Bose on ESPNcricinfo's video chat show) and Srinivasan's true personality emerged, holding Indian cricket and its image outside the country to ransom for the sake of holding office.
That office is now gone until the next BCCI elections (in September 2017, thanks to a freshly-amended BCCI constitution in which all office bearers enjoy uncontested three-year terms) but for the next few months, Dalmiya will no doubt have Srinivasan in his ear more than he did for the last decade. His lietuenants happen to be two of the BCCI's most ambitious young officials, Anurag Thakur as secretary and Anirudh Chaudhary as treasurer - the latter the son of Dalmiya's aide Ranbir Singh. There is a very good chance that he will get opposing messages on some if not most issues. What is done about the chatter will be revealing. It will help us discover whether the old fox can once again tap into his old instincts at the head of the pack. Or if Jagguda's edge will now be blunted.
A version of this article first appeared in June 2013
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo