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Martin Williamson chats to Ram Varadarajan, the man challenging to take charge of the USA Cricket Association
March 12, 2008
But just as it seemed the old guard would not face any credible opposition, there emerged a credible challenge to long-standing USACA president Gladstone Dainty and his executive. Until last month, little was known about Ram Varadarajan, but his announcement that he was ready to take on Dainty was supported by a PR offensive as slick as Dainty's was non existent.
Varadarajan, who was born in Mumbai and qualified as a chemical engineer before emigrating to the USA in 1982, had organised local events, and a few forays into national tournaments left him realising that there was considerable scope for improvement.
One goal he had was for the US to produce a strong Under-19 side, but when he approached USACA "there was no enthusiasm from them as they had no vision for youth cricket". Undeterred, Varadarajan took it upon himself to organise, with USACA's approval, successful youth-team tournaments across the country in 2006 and 2007.
But the support from on high was minimal. "I had a sense of disappointment that there were not many ideas coming from USACA and I realised something had to be done to bring some energy and liveliness to the organisation."
Still Varadarajan was content to remain on the sidelines. "I was deeply disappointed with the suspension [from the ICC] but once the new constitution was ratified I hoped many more people would run in the board elections. However, a lot of people were complaining but nobody was prepared to run. I said: 'Enough is enough, somebody has to do something ... maybe there's a calling here I need to answer'."
He soon dismissed suggestions that change could come from within - "it has to come from the top" - and he decided to directly challenge Dainty, assembling a team capable of what he describes as a "velvet revolution".
Varadarajan shies away from direct criticism of the current executive but does say that USACA needs "professional management", and while he admits to not being a great player ("I am a passionate student of the game") his business background speaks for itself.
One thing that Varadarajan's group is aware of is the perception that USACA is run in one corner of the country and is "irrelevant to the leagues and stakeholders". As a result, the candidates allied to him are from across the country and, crucially, people picked for their strengths and not because they are friends of his. "I wanted people with skills from across the USA.
|I believe that USACA is public service, and the president needs to believe he is the servant of the leagues and not its master. Currently USACA is operating as if it is the master and I want to change that. It needs to be more relevant|
He is also acutely aware of how split the US cricket fraternity is. "I want to get rid of the politics and this is a new beginning. It's about trying to figure out what's best going forward. All these factions form when there is inaction and no communication. We are going to be highly communicative and we will discuss problems, not only among a few people but also among the leagues. That will diminish anxiety and we will have fewer warring factions.
"We want to run a democratic a system as possible," he continued. "Ideas can come from anywhere. I am not a renegade ... I don't want to be an extremist. I am a conformist and I want to do things by the book."
What is interesting is that while Dainty and his coterie have adopted a bunker-like mentality, rarely venturing out or explaining their actions, since Varadarajan decided to run he has been flying to all parts to meet with regional officials and put forward his case. "I have met with more league presidents that any USACA official ever has, that's how serious I am. I want to know what issues are important to them and also to explain my points of view." When we spoke he was in New York for the second time in the month, and a week earlier he had been in Chicago and Florida.
He has not approached anyone outside the USA, such as the ICC or investors who have been put off by the infighting, but admits that if elected, that will be high on his agenda. "I hope to build a very friendly and co-operative relationship with the ICC ... after all, the US is a huge market for commercial sports."
He also believes that once sponsors see that there is an open and energetic administration running the game, then it will be easier to attract investment, and that in turn will lead to more money filtering into grass-roots cricket and national tournaments. "Once we get the house in order and stable, the question will be how can we build a platform for commercialising cricket. If you can do that then the funding situation will work out very nicely.
He wants to encourage people to develop on their own, with financial incentives for those who do as well as administrative help. And he has ambitious plans to encourage cricket in universities - at present, 30 play it across the country - and the ultimate aim is to "lay the groundwork for professional cricket ... I would work to establish cricket scholarships in American universities. Such exist for almost all sports, except cricket. It is important to look at the entire chain from high school through university.
"American kids will play any sport ... if it's easy to play soccer and baseball but immensely hard to play cricket, then they will gravitate to sports it is easy to play. It is incumbent on us to make it easy."