"I like to head things."
— Sharad Pawar to Patrick French, Hindustan Times
He does. Besides heading the BCCI and the ICC, Sharad Pawar has been at the helm of a number of sporting organisations. The Maharashtra State Wrestling Association (where he still holds the president’s post), the Maharashtra Kabaddi Association, the Maharashtra Kho Kho Association, and the Maharashtra Olympics Association. He also founded the Asian Athletic Kabaddi Federeation. Let’s not even start about his stints as head honcho in the political arena. So his recent announcement that he would step down as the president of the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) took a minute or so to digest.
After having been the president of the MCA from 2001 to 2010, and in 2012, he was re-elected president last year. The NCP supremo defeated the Shiv Sena backed Vijay Patil, but the recommendations of the Lodha Panel mean that his latest reign has been cut short. Much will be written about his many stints no doubt. His contributions to women’s cricket though, should not be left out among the flotsam.
With my disinterest in politics, I cared little about what Sharad Pawar did in sports, even in cricket. This was 2005, when women’s cricket was run by the Women’s Cricket Association of India. The Indian women’s team had made the finals of the World Cup (till date their best performance) the same year that Pawar acquired the reigns of the BCCI. Around the world, there were seismic shifts happening in the world of women’s cricket. The Australian, English, and New Zealand cricket boards had merged with their female counterparts. At the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup in 2005, the ICC had announced its decision to merge with the International Women’s Cricket Council.
And yet the BCCI had until then been sluggish to make any move to merge with the existing organisation, or even take up women’s cricket on its own. Things changed when Pawar became the head of the BCCI though, helped by directives issued by the ICC for all countries to develop women’s wings. With the ICC directives making things inevitable, the ease of the process was helped in no small part by the positive stance adopted by Pawar. Thanks to the persistence of the WCAI secretary Shubhangi Kulkarni, and the change in leadership in the BCCI, the BCCI formally took up women’s cricket towards the end of 2006.
Flash forward to 2008, to the women’s Asia Cup where I made my international debut. The Indian team comfortably won the trophy, and as we prepared to head home, news trickled in of a cash reward that had been announced by the BCCI. All of us had played under the WCAI, where we almost always spent out of pocket to play, so this was a veritable windfall after a win. I later learned that the move had been sanctioned by Pawar, who stepped down as BCCI president that year as well.
“What women’s cricket is today is due to Mr Pawar,” Diana Eduljee had said. “Till he was there (at BCCI) there was no problem. He was the only support for us. The moment he moved out of BCCI, the treatment completely changed”, she added.
Those in my acquaintance familiar with the game of political opportunism have pointed out that by announcing his intention to resign from the MCA, Pawar has simply sought to gain some credit for doing something that he really has no option but to do. It did take my mind back to 2005, where the merger of women’s cricket had created a similar situation. And yet I can clearly recall how subsequent BCCI administrations were on the cooler side of tepid when it came to women’s cricket, and I can confidently say that that move was more than a limelight grabbing exercise.
Yet what the whole sport, and the women’s game in particular, needs, are long term solutions for the greater good of the game. And the greater good lies in accepting the recommendations of the Lodha panel; any other move by the state associations would be internecine. It is heartening to see the Mumbai Cricket Association, who is one of those who has been affected adversely by the one-state-one-vote rule, accept the recommendations in their entirety. Like the cash reward the Indian women’s team received in 2008, this is another of Pawar’s munificent parting gifts, only far more meaningful.
So Pawar becomes the first scalp claimed by the Lodha panel’s own version of Dumbledore’s age line; and he has gone out gracefully. He knows he’s among many who have been caught plumb in front, and is taking the moral high road and is walking without waiting for the finger. More will follow, but here again will be a list of swelling puissance, that Pawar will be at the head of.