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From optimism to cynicism: how Sourav Ganguly's tenure as BCCI president petered out

He came in with promises to make Indian cricket a better place. Now, his term done, he leaves us with the realisation that the more things change, the more they stay the same

Jayaditya Gupta
Jayaditya Gupta
18-Oct-2022
Sourav Ganguly's tenure as BCCI president has been a lot of talk and not enough action  •  Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Sourav Ganguly's tenure as BCCI president has been a lot of talk and not enough action  •  Hindustan Times/Getty Images

In November 2019, weeks after he had been installed as BCCI president, Sourav Ganguly's administration proposed several amendments to the board's constitution, written in 2018 by the Lodha Committee, which had been set up three years before by the country's Supreme Court to recommend improvements to the board's functioning. Those amendments, if effected, would strike at the heart of the Lodha reforms, arguably taking the BCCI back to its days of unchecked power and lack of accountability.
On September 14 this year, the Supreme Court agreed to most of those proposed amendments. Most importantly, the court agreed to relax the cooling-off-period rule under which the board's office-bearers were barred from holding prolonged unbroken tenures - thus allowing Ganguly and Jay Shah to serve another term as BCCI president and secretary.
Within weeks, in a viciously ironic twist of fate, Ganguly would be out of the BCCI. There was little lament, save for the spin given by political parties, who have surrounded him since his retirement as a player - and whom he has never discouraged. Yet there was an overwhelming sense of disappointment, of what could have been, of perhaps a huge opportunity missed.
It all seemed so sunny and rosy that October day in 2019. Ganguly's installation as BCCI president prompted a wave of optimism, even celebration. The first India captain to head the board in 65 years, the changemaker to help Indian cricket emerge from the cloud of the match-fixing affair in the early 2000s. He'd be someone who would call a spade a shovel, who could bring in the winds of change the BCCI needed. Someone who could make the administration a player-forward entity, and not one focused on fattening its already large bank balance. Or perhaps, everyone was a bit naïve.
Because that optimism, as noted above, lasted only a few weeks. Then it went downhill and, bar a handful of pluses, never really recovered.
Arguably the biggest let-down, given Ganguly's background, was his inaction on player-related issues. Backing domestic cricketers was one of his pitches as president. "My biggest priority will be to look after first-class cricketers," he told PTI hours after becoming president. Within a fortnight he had raised the bar: there would be a contract system for first-class cricketers.
It has been three years without any sign of the contracts.
India's women cricketers, who represented the country in the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia, where they were runners-up, had to suffer an additional indignity. They received their prize money, approximately US$500,000, from the BCCI more than 15 months after the tournament ended. The board itself had received the money from the ICC around a week after the final.
You could put these down to bureaucratic delays; the red tape that hinders all Indian sport. And maybe the president is not the person to blame for organisational inefficiencies; maybe none of these things were really a priority for the BCCI. And it is also true that, unlike during Ganguly's captaincy, where he had the backing of the BCCI president then, Jagmohan Dalmiya, he didn't really hold much power in this post.
Yet he was president. The buck stopped with him, and part of the president's role - as is the role of the head of any large organisation - is to be statesmanlike, deal with the big things, project an image of calm and control. In this, the optics were poor.
Nowhere more so than in the public spat with Virat Kohli last year, which effectively resulted in the BCCI president and the national team captain calling each other liars in public.
Days after becoming president, Ganguly pledged his support to India captain Kohli, who was, Ganguly said, "the most important man in Indian cricket". "He wants to make this team the best in the world… We have to sit with him and see what he wants. We'll support him in every way."
Ganguly was president. The buck stopped with him. Part of the president's role is to deal with the big things, project an image of calm and control. In this, the optics were poor
Before the dust could settle on this unseemly public exchange between Indian cricket's two most high-profile personalities, Kohli was gone as Test captain too, after India's series loss in South Africa. Ganguly remained, and the spin doctors worked hard to put the focus on Kohli starting things off by quitting the T20 captaincy just before the T20 World Cup in the UAE. That is not unfounded, but at the end of the day it was a matter of management - people management, headline management, ensuring the issue was resolved behind closed doors.
Among the more perceptive observations about Ganguly is one by my colleague Nagraj Gollapudi: "When it comes to Ganguly, there's never anything black and white." That also points to Ganguly's ability to push the lines of right and wrong without actually breaking the laws. Such as with his various endorsements of products that are rivals to those of official BCCI partners. There is nothing in the BCCI constitution that barred Ganguly from endorsing a brand that competed with the board's official partners or with the title sponsors; in fact, it would rather have been a conflict if he had had personal commercial deals with the BCCI's official sponsors. But for people in high positions, perception and propriety matter, and Ganguly remained blithely aloof about the chatter over how he inhabited grey areas in these matters.
Boxes were ticked: The women's IPL will be held next year, though the BCCI's own note on this, circulated to state associations, suggests it was inevitable if not well overdue. And domestic cricketers have been given a match-fee raise, and paid compensation for loss of earnings during the first pandemic winter.
Ultimately, though, the old guard that installed Ganguly - former BCCI presidents N Srinivasan and Anurag Thakur, along with former board secretary Niranjan Shah, and former IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla - pulled the plug on his tenure.
And though their influence, direct or indirect, three years later, suggests the BCCI now is more of the same old, there has been a perceptible change in the board. What used to be a collection of people from across the political spectrum is now mostly a one-party affair. The secretary, Jay Shah, is the son of the home minister; the new treasurer, Ashish Shelar, is a BJP legislator from Maharashtra; the new joint secretary, Devajit Saikia, is a close aide of the Assam chief minister, also with the BJP; the IPL chairman is BJP minister (and former BCCI president) Anurag Thakur's brother.
And Ganguly? He always lands on his feet, and is smart enough to play the political long game (elections in his home state, West Bengal, are four years away). He has decided to contest the upcoming elections of the Cricket Association of Bengal but that's unlikely to be where his career ends. At 50, he is young enough for another shot at the big time; he may even be wheeled out again for an ICC stint when the time is right.
But it will be a different Ganguly. Will he still carry the aura of the captain who led Indian cricket boldly out of its darkest abyss? Or has the BCCI president, whose brand endorsements evoked constant snickering, severely tarnished the one brand that really matters to him - Brand Ganguly?

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo in India