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After spending almost eight years away from cricket's seat of power, Jagmohan Dalmiya's baffling return has left people scratching their heads
June 2, 2013
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Players/Officials: Jagmohan Dalmiya
Jagguda is back. The return of Jagmohan Dalmiya to the top of the BCCI, even in an unnamed category, gives rise, in equal measure, to chuckle and groans of disbelief.
In the pre-Srinivasan-Chennai Super Kings era - and yes, such an era did actually 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 ICC's finances around leading even former ICC 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.
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.
Dalmiya was last seen at the churning apex of Indian cricket politics in 2005 battling Sharad Pawar and his cohorts en route to a decisive election. Prominent among those cohorts were Shashank Manohar, N Srinivasan and Lalit Modi. Even though Dalmiya was not competing for office himself, the 2005 election was the first time he had ended up on the losing side 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, 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, was awarded Tests and ODIs with two year intervals. 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 Calcutta, with his loyal personal assistant KK Ghosh, conducting business through typewriters and landline telephones. Until a few days ago, he was thought of as yesterday's man, 'former' in every sense of the word.
In a startling turnaround, still head of the Cricket Association of Bengal, he returns to centre-stage, morphed into a figure of reason and reconciliation during the BCCI's worst-ever crisis. After the Chennai meeting, in which the BCCI working committee met for the first time since the arrest of Srinivasan's son-in-law nine days ago under charges of betting, it was Dalmiya, the most experienced BCCI administrator in the room, who became the answer. The most widely-accepted candidate to "conduct day-to-day affairs of the Board", the man Srinivasan was willing to cede even notional power to.
That he was accepted by Srinivasan, one of the core group leaders in the 2005 campaign to oust him, must surely have left Dalmiya chuckling to himself. He stepped into the breach at the end of the raucous meeting in Chennai and played Jaggu the Redeemer. "I think the members felt it was too fast to demand his resignation… Nobody had asked for his resignation. I can say nobody came forward. It was unnecessary, like going after a punching bag," he said.
The political cycle begun in 2005 has been completed and closed.
As of this evening, Dalmiya has been transformed from Srinivasan's personal enemy number one to BFF. During his time on the outer fringes of the BCCI, like the smartest of politicians, Dalmiya made good use of his time. He has been in regular conversation with Jaitley during these years, in touch with Rajiv Shukla, mending his fences slowly. Once Lalit Modi turned into persona non grata in 2010, Dalmiya's expulsion was revoked and the civil charges against him dropped.
When it began to be hinted that the drive against Srinivasan may involve approval from Sharad Pawar, who could return to the Mumbai Cricket Association within months, Dalmiya made a decisive move. Even when sounding gloriously neutral, he picked his side. Anyone but Pawar's men.
Both Dalmiya and Srinivasan are similar in many ways. They are both, an insider says, authoritarian, patriarchal, who 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 carries in him the ability to discuss, negotiate and eventually get what he wants. With Srinivasan, discussion is but an abstract noun. He chooses to deal in verbs, issuing diktats being his most favourite.
When he first showed up, compared to Dalmiya and his safari-suit-wearing Calcutta persona, Srinivasan appeared very nouveau: treasurer cheques arrived on time for players, meetings were conducted briskly, the man had a dry sense of humour and was full 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.
Dalmiya-watchers are now mystified by his presence in the board under an unnamed designation at this point in his life. He is in his 70s, and from the outside, the sharpness and energy that made him an administrator not to be messed with, is of a lower wattage. Despite that, this short-service commission as stand-in for Srinivasan does not exactly fit his general temperament and persona. So, what is Jagguda doing here?
Those who know the old fox are scratching their heads. They offer a suggestion: maybe this is not really a short service commission lasting a few months. Maybe he's testing the waters and checking its temperature. Come September, we should not be surprised if Dalmiya makes another move. It's highly unlikely he's here only to pass the time.
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