In November 2018, Jayesh George, the secretary of the Kerala Cricket Association, sat down at Eden Gardens with Sourav Ganguly and discussed cricket. It was the first day of a Ranji Trophy match between Bengal and Kerala.
It was a green pitch, George remembers. Kerala won the toss and their fast bowlers bundled Bengal out for 147 before lunch.
George knew Ganguly from BCCI general body meetings, where Ganguly figured as the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) secretary in 2014 and then president late 2015 onwards.
"In the fifth over [of the Kerala innings] Sourav told me, 'You are going to win this match,'" When George pointed out the difference in experience between the sides, Ganguly said: "Look, if Bengal were able to reach 200 or 220 runs then it would have been different. Now what they will try to do is try to get [Kerala] all out for around 120-130, and might end up bowling some loose deliveries."
And so it turned out. Mohammed Shami conceded 100 runs in 26 overs, Jalaj Saxena made 143 for Kerala, and they ended up winning by nine wickets. George remembers being impressed by Ganguly's reading: how the Bengal players might stray from the basics.
Ganguly often has that effect as a leader and thinker in cricket. On the field he was a visionary, and a captain who could grasp the essence of a player quickly and help him use it in a positive fashion. Those qualities will come in handy as he begins a new chapter in his career, as the 37th president of the BCCI.
"The choice of Ganguly works for the BCCI in terms of the optics. An aggressive captain who earned respect from within the India dressing room and rivals alike, his aura remains intact more than a decade since he retired"
He will be only the second former player to head the board, after the Maharaja of Vizianagram in 1954. Ganguly was the sole nominee for the position and was elected unopposed - as were all those appointed to the five office-bearers' positions. One of them is George, who has been elected as joint secretary.
Ganguly emerged as the consensus candidate for the president's job at an informal meeting called by former board presidents N Srinivasan and Anurag Thakur in Mumbai about ten days ago. Those two men had picked their horses to back for the top job, and Ganguly was likely not first choice for either. Srinivasan wanted long-term confidant Brijesh Patel, the former India opener and a veteran administrator at the Karnataka State Cricket Association, in the post. Thakur, a serving member of parliament in the Indian government, was thought to have supported the candidature of Jay Shah, the son of India's home minister Amit Shah, known as the second most powerful man in the country after the prime minister, Narendra Modi.
It was Shah who might have played the hand that tilted the scales, though not in favour of his son but Ganguly. On August 13, Ganguly flew to Delhi, where he met informally with Shah. Later that day he said to a group of reporters that he didn't think he was a front-runner, while remarking on how alien he was to the way things worked in the higher echelons of the board.
A few hours later, on the 14th, he was named the unanimous choice for the BCCI president's job. Jay Shah would file a nomination for the secretary's post.
Ganguly said he was happy take up the new challenge, which he said was nowhere near the task that faced him when he took charge as India's captain in 2000, in the immediate aftermath of the match-fixing scandal.
The choice of Ganguly works for the BCCI in terms of the optics. An aggressive captain who earned respect from within the India dressing room and rivals alike, his aura remains intact more than a decade since he retired. "They wanted somebody who is more visible and high-profile," a newly elected secretary of a powerful state association, who was present at the Mumbai meetings, says. "The current generation will identify with Ganguly."
If there was one thing everyone present at the Mumbai meeting agreed on, it was that Srinivasan could not be allowed to come back into power, even if indirectly. Srinivasan might have dared to field Patel against Ganguly, but the risk that the gambit would not pay off was too great, and Srinivasan was well aware there were several state associations that were ranged against him after he was tainted by association in the 2013 IPL corruption scandal.
What about Jay Shah as a candidate for president, though? The state association president quoted above says Shah was outclassed by Ganguly on knowledge of cricket affairs and ability to handle pressure situations. "Ganguly was the India captain. And in the last four years he has been an office bearer at the CAB. Jay Shah would have been completely exposed."
Within three days of taking over as CAB president in September 2015, Ganguly rang Daljit Singh, the veteran curator and head groundsman in Mohali, who had at the time recently retired as the head of the BCCI's grounds and pitches committee. Ganguly wanted Singh to help sort out the drainage at Eden Gardens, which was going to host two marquee games in the 2016 T20 World Cup - India v Pakistan and the final. He wanted to make sure fingers would not be pointed at CAB over the issue.
The challenge at the ground through its existence was that the pitch and outfield did not stand up well to rain water.
Singh told Ganguly they could re-lay the entire ground and install a sub-soil drainage system as a long-term solution. But that would mean closing the ground for six months or so. Ganguly struck down that idea because of the lack of time. Instead, they devised a fix using a coring machine, fine sand and organic fertilisers. It was a rush job but it worked. "Even if it would rain, the water would be absorbed quickly and there would be no lengthy disruptions," Daljit said earlier this week looking back at the project.
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Another feather in the cap of Ganguly the administrator was Vision 2020, a programme launched in association with former board president Jagmohan Dalmiya to help young Bengal players get exposure and top-class coaching. Ganguly roped cricketing greats Muttiah Muralitharan and VVS Laxman, and fast-bowling coach TA Sekar, into the project. Although Bengal's stock in domestic cricket has not risen significantly during Ganguly's tenure at CAB, young players from the state, like Abhimanyu Easwaran, are now part of the pool of players shortlisted by the national selectors.
Ganguly also left his mark on grass-roots cricket during his Bengal tenure. The duration of first-division matches organised by the CAB was increased from two days to three, the better to help players develop the mindset required for first-class cricket. Ganguly thought Bengal players lacked the patience and focus they needed to approach first-class matches session by session, and thought an additional day would help them become tougher mentally.
"He will hear everybody patiently and take it forward. Anything that will do good for the game, he will get it implemented. He will not budge. He will not bulldoze you, but he will get it done" Naresh Ojha, CAB vice-president on Ganguly
He also sought the help of corporates to employ players. And made the AN Ghosh Trophy, a limited overs first-division tournament, a corporate trophy.
Naresh Ojha, who played for Saurashtra before moving to Kolkata, and has been CAB vice-president for the past four years, sees parallels between Dalmiya and Ganguly. "I have seen both men from close," Ojha, who worked as assistant secretary at the CAB during Dalmiya's tenure, said. "What I see in Sourav is, he is hands-on, has a lot of ideas. He has picked things up very, very quickly. He is calm, he knows what he is doing, and he knows what he wants to do."
Ojha says Ganguly's charisma and aura are among his strengths. "When he started [as CAB president] he started individually connecting to every member - something I had seen Jaggu da do long, long back. He took everybody in the loop towards the goal - how to progress, how to make CAB better, how to make Indian cricket better." Like Dalmiya, Ojha says, Ganguly is not afraid to take hard decisions.
"He is able to implement ideas quickly. And that is something he will use to prosper as BCCI president. He will hear everybody patiently and take it forward. Anything that will do good for the game, he will get it implemented. He will not budge. He will not bulldoze you, but he will get it done."
Gautam Dasgupta, a former office-bearer at the CAB, and right-hand man of Dalmiya, agrees. Dasgupta occupied various positions at the CAB, was joint secretary of the BCCI in the mid-2000s, and worked closely with IS Bindra, another former BCCI president. He knows what is needed to succeed in the top job. "Firstly, you need to be a genuine lover of the game. Secondly, we are a large country and every member wants your attention, so you have to listen to each and every one."
Dasgupta believes Ganguly's biggest strength is his personality. "By the time he became CAB president, he became a good administrator and worked hard on development of the game and the infrastructure in the region. By virtue of his personality, CAB has definitely gained during his tenure."
It is possibly this charisma that draws heavyweights in politics at large to Ganguly. In 2015, he was a joint secretary at the CAB, which was not in the best of shape at the time; Dalmiya had been ill for more than a few years. Biswarup Dey, then the CAB treasurer, wanted the job of president. However, to everyone's surprise, including Ganguly's possibly, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee stepped in and announced Ganguly as CAB president, with Dalmiya's son Avishek replacing him as joint secretary.
At his first media briefing in Kolkata upon becoming president-elect of the BCCI, Ganguly was asked whether he was planning a foray into politics at some point. He said he had no such thoughts. He will keep his benefactors close, though. On Monday he told the media that he would invite Banerjee to attend the second Test of the India-Bangladesh series, scheduled in Kolkata from November 22.
Each time he has spoken as president-elect Ganguly has said the BCCI has been in a state of "emergency" in the last three years under the supervision of the CoA. This is a reference to how the CoA has blocked the outflow of funding to state associations, saying that only those that are compliant can avail of the benefit.
Virtually every state association has suffered from that stipulation. Ganguly's administration will look to correct what they see as a wrong committed by the CoA. "Even after amending our constitution and framing it as per Lodha Committee reforms, they did not release the funds," George says.
Also high on Ganguly's agenda will be ICC matters. Recently the ICC board approved its management's decision to have eight global tournaments, including two editions of an additional one, in the next cycle of the Future Tours Programme, between 2023 and 2031. The BCCI's chief executive officer, Rahul Johri, is known to have sent a note to his counterpart at the ICC, Manu Sawhney, saying it was not appropriate to rush through the decision on the additional tournaments without having worked out the bilateral series in the FTP.
Ganguly has already made it clear that he wants India to retain its status at the top of the pile in the ICC, considering the country is the biggest market for the game and its sponsors. Srinivasan and Thakur, and a majority of the BCCI's state associations, had strongly objected to the ICC's new revenue model that was put in place in 2017, overseen by the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, under which India stood to get US$400 million as its share of the ICC's revenues in the 2015-23 cycle.
"Ganguly will be keen on building a constructive pathway between the BCCI and the ICC, especially considering India will be hosting two World Cups in the next four years"
Ganguly's equation with Manohar will pave the way for the future of BCCI's and ICC's relationship over the next year. Both men share a rapport, though there was speculation in the media that in the 2004 Test match against Australia in Nagpur, where Ganguly, as India captain, wanted a spin track, Manohar, the head of the Vidarbha Cricket Association then, ignored him and asked the curator to prepare a green track.
However, Manohar, as BCCI president, is understood to also have helped Ganguly plan his retirement back in 2008, when his form was brittle. Ganguly will be keen on building a constructive pathway between the BCCI and the ICC, especially considering India will be hosting two World Cups in the next four years.
The biggest challenge for the new BCCI administration is the potential diminishment of their power by the recent reforms. The Lodha committee's recommendations make it clear that the BCCI's office-bearers need to work with the general body and the apex council in setting out general policy. That is a radical departure from the past, when the office-bearers did not just create policy but had the final say in most matters.
Can Ganguly and his men work under the new structure? "Separation of policy and administration is the key to the reforms," a senior official who has worked with various BCCI administrations for a couple of decades says. "Earlier the president or what the secretary said was the law. Now the office-bearers, including the president, do not have much powers. [The president] is one of the nine members on the apex council, where broad policy is decided. So the challenge is abiding by the [board's] constitution."
Ratnakar Shetty, for long an administrator with the BCCI in the past, believes Ganguly has a "feel" for administration, having led the National Cricket Academy, the BCCI's technical committee, and been part of the cricket advisory committee. "I feel as a policy-maker it is in your hands how you lead the board, and therefore your views are important, your inputs are important," Shetty says. "And you have an added responsibility which is ensuring implementation of the ideas and getting that done through professionals."
Ganguly has about ten months left before he finishes six years as an office-bearer with the BCCI or one of its state associations, after which he will need to serve a mandatory three-year cooling-off period. That is not something he is overly concerned about. He has told his team their focus will be on cricket. That is how Ganguly believes he can put his best foot forward as he takes charge of the new BCCI.