Before Lalit Modi, there was Jagmohan Dalmiya. And if India presently pulls all strings in world cricket, it owes a large debt to Dalmiya (or “Jaggu Dada” as he was so affectionately called) for putting it towards that path.
Without doubt, Dalmiya’s influence on cricket administration in India is immense. Coming from an influential Marwari business family in Kolkata, Dalmiya could have easily chosen to concentrate on his flourishing family business. He admitted as such, in an interview to IBNLive in March, 2015 when he laughingly said, “Since I was young, 20-30-40 years ago, my family has been asking me to go take care of the family business.” Instead, Dalmiya joined the Board of Control for Cricket in India and soon became one of the most influential sport administrators in India, if not the world.
Transforming the game
Dalmiya played a key role in breaking England and Australia’s monopoly of the International Cricket Council and shifting power eastwards. After a lengthy, protracted meeting in 1993, Dalmiya was instrumental in bringing the 1996 World Cup to the subcontinent. He had also brought the 1987 World Cup to India, but this was different. The 1996 World Cup was a spectacle of colour and sponsors – it was, perhaps, the first major sporting event in India which woke the world up to the riches available in the game. Even when Australia and the West Indies refused to tour Sri Lanka at the start of the tournament, Dalmiya was unperturbed – he sent a joint India-Pakistan team to the island to convince the cricketing world that it was safe.
Not content with just the BCCI, Dalmiya climbed a rung higher in 1997, becoming president of the International Cricket Council, the first Asian to attain the post. His three-year tenure as president was short but eventful. Under his presidency, the ICC started to understand how to make money out of the new revenue stream of television rights. The old was giving way to the new – from its traditional headquarters at Lords’, London, the ICC shifted its headquarters to Dubai.
As an administrator, Dalmiya’s greatest quality was his resilience. Throughout his rise to the top, he expertly navigated the corridors of powers in the BCCI, always finding a way to get what he wanted. In 2004, it was largely believed that Indian cricket had seen the last of Dalmiya – in a fiercely contested election for BCCI President, Dalmiya’s candidate Ranbir Singh Mahendra was beaten by bitter rival Sharad Pawar.
Always a man who divided opinion, the new administration in the BCCI went after him with a vengeance. Dalmiya was expelled from the BCCI, ostensibly on charges of financial irregularities and even had cases of misappropriation filed against him. In what seemed the unkindest cut, he was forced to resign from his home turf, the Cricket Association of Bengal. He did win a legal battle and become CAB President again in 2008, but it seemed his stature of old had receded.
And yet, Jaggu Dada bided his time, content with letting people forget him, ensuring that he lived up to his title of the “master of comebacks”. Things had changed since he had been BCCI President, but his wily brain still remained ticking. In June 2013, with the Indian Premier League spot-fixing controversy in full place, N. Srinivasan was forced to step aside as the heat around his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan increased. Amidst bickering and fighting, only one candidate had the necessary consensus among warring factions to become interim president – Dalmiya himself. This, by itself, was an astonishing comeback for a man who had been hounded out ten years ago but the best was yet to come.
Move to March 2015. Both the Srinivasan and Pawar camps were locked in a fierce battle for BCCI Presidency. Displaying his tactical nous yet again, Dalmiya managed to convince both the factions that he was the best man for the job and found himself elected unopposed as BCCI President. The circle of life was complete.
Ill health followed Dalmiya throughout his last few months as BCCI President – in fact, the Justice Lodha panel found his answers “incoherent” as he was unwell. Reports circulated thick and fast that Dalmiya was so unwell that he was hardly able to handle the day-to-day workings of the BCCI. When it was reported on Thursday (September 17) that Dalmiya had suffered a heart attack but was in stable condition, the hope was that Jaggu Dada would make a comeback yet again. But it was unfortunately not to be – Dalmiya suffered a cardiac arrest on September 20 and passed away at the BM Birla hospital in Kolkata.
When the history of Indian cricket administration is written, Jagmohan Dalmiya will occupy a prominent place – the man who sowed the seeds of cricket’s transformation into a multi-billion dollar sport, kickstarting India’s domination of the global game.
This post originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.