"I don't like to lose," said Narayanaswami Srinivasan after the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s annual general meeting at its headquarters in Mumbai.
But then who does, you may ask. We all hate to lose but Srinivasan hates it just a little bit more than the others. In fact, he hates it enough to change the rules if he has to in order to win. And that's something that takes a lot of power or brains. Those who know the BCCI's new president well will argue he has both.
One of the main qualms concerning Srinivasan's rise to the top is his perceived conflict of interest as BCCI president, TNCA president, Managing Director of India Cements, and owner of the Chennai Super Kings.
The questions range from how he can do things to suit his team – there have been several allegations that the IPL auction was rigged to suit CSK — to how he can't have the BCCI's or, for that matter, cricket's best interests at heart when he is so obviously torn between two different responsibilities.
Srinivasan would have us believe that there is no conflict. Since he is just an employee of India Cements, which owns CSK. But is he honestly asking us to believe that the MD had no say in the original bid?
Of course, the BCCI has this habit of writing its rules on sand. It doesn't take much to change a troublesome clause if you have the right kind of support.
At the time of India Cement's purchase of CSK, the relevant clause (6.2.4, Regulations for Players, Officials, Umpires and Administrators) in the board’s constitution said:
"No administrator shall have, directly or indirectly, any commercial interest in the matches and events conducted by the board."
Directly or indirectly… that should've ruled out Srinivasan's company there and then. But he doesn't like to lose. He's said it himself. So he used whatever persuation was necessary to quickly slip an amendment in place in September 2008.
The amended clause read: "No administrator shall have directly or indirectly any commercial interest in any of the events of the BCCI, excluding IPL, Champions League and Twenty20."
Not too many words were changed but they were enough to give Srinivasan the upper hand and the power to reproach anyone foolish enough to bring up the issue again. He has done that since then. Of course, those foolish enough to continue to fight their battles either end up abroad like Lalit Modi or in obscurity, like former BCCI president AC Muttaih – the man who mentored Srinivasan when he made his first foray into cricket administration.
The story of Indian cricket follows an endless, destructive cycle – the all-powerful never survive forever. Srinivasan has shown himself willing to wait for that break and invariably he gets it.
It's hard to get anyone to say anything really harsh about the man. It’s also hard to know whether they are influenced by fear or respect.
They'll tell you he is a good administrator; better than the outgoing president Shashank Manohar. They'll also tell you that he is someone who rewards those who are loyal to him. And as a note of warning, they'll also tell you that getting on his wrong side isn't the wise thing to do.
At a certain level, you have to admire Srinivasan. He runs a successful business, does more than just survive in the BCCI, CSK is one of the most successful teams in the IPL, runs Tamil Nadu cricket well, the Madras Cricket Club isn't doing too badly either and till last year also ran the All India Chess Federation. And there is more. That's a lot of stuff for one man to handle. So he' either great at multi-tasking or delegates very well, take your pick.
There are times, however, when he has messed up.
The conflict of interest case is just one thing that we’ve been hearing about. And though the Supreme Court refused to restrain him from taking over as BCCI president, the apex court also made it clear that his appointment would be subject to the final outcome of a petition. There was also this time when as BCCI's treasurer, he failed to cash out a guarantee from Zee Telefilms over a TV rights deal which was later cancelled. The loss amounted to a 'mere' Rs 250 crore loss, which of course has never been questioned again. But it should be, right?
And while on his administrative skills, one should mention that in his time as AICF president, Indian chess didn't exactly go from strength to strength. Srinivasan took over as president in 2001 and in his two terms, there was only one big event in India – a World Cup in Hyderabad. This, when, there is a pretty good market for the sport in south India. AICF was also only organising only national championships with government grants and help from a few sponsors.
Srinivasan has shown that he is adept at wearing many hats. But so far, he has done the waiting. But now, the others wait, in the shadows, for a chance to strike. As president, every move of his will be critisised and coming into the job after India's debacle in England, won't help his cause either.
The going's never easy as BCCI president but perhaps it's going to be toughest now.