One of the most remarkable innings played in Indian cricket will come to an end when Sharad Govindrao Pawar finally steps down from the Mumbai Cricket Association "in about six months time" in deference to the Supreme Court upholding the Lodha Committee report which set an age restriction (70 years) and term restriction (9 years) on all BCCI and its affiliated units’ office bearers.
“I don’t want to stay till then. But some procedures have to be completed,” said the 75-year-old Pawar who has been heading cricket administration since 2001.
The Maharashtrian strong man’s role in political, developmental, agricultural, infrastructure, industry and sundry fields has always evoked fiercely contrasting opinions. But the scope of this article will centre around his task as cricket administrator.
For some time now public opinion has been overwhelmingly against the involvement of politicians in sport. Pawar, in particular, stirs up a storm of opinions. But there is no denying that most would have found it impossible to emulate his deeds for cricket.
Top politicians, especially seasoned ones like Pawar, posses an outstanding ability to take decisions — good or bad — that no other class of administrators, not even bureaucrats, can match. It is this exceptional Pawar trait that has helped Mumbai and Indian cricket in no uncertain means.
Pawar was sucked into cricket administration rather fortuitously. He was petitioned to settle some silly dispute about a cricket ground in Mumbai. The dispute was not about ownership, but the area that could be used to play cricket (40’ x 40’ according to one of the protagonists). The consummate politician he is, Pawar not only solved the issue to satisfaction, but also saw an opportunity here. In no time he was seen contesting MCA elections and soon heading one of India’s most formidable cricket associations.
It was then that he revealed an astute ability to differentiate between politics of an association and the sport it promoted. He formed the MCA Cricket Improvement Committee comprising top former cricketers and asked his defeated opponent Ajit Wadekar to put politics aside and work for the development of Mumbai cricket.
Wadekar, former India captain and the hero of many a Mumbai Ranji Trophy title triumph, felt slighted that the MCA members had disregarded his services and opted for a politician instead. At that point of time Pawar’s only connection with cricket was that his late father-in-law Sadashiv Ganpatrao Shinde, renowned leg spinner, had played seven Tests for India between 1946 and 1952. Wadekar could not accept that cricketers and cricket followers had chosen a non cricketer over him and thus refused to head the committee. Hence Madhav Apte was made chairman of the committee and received total support from MCA president Pawar.
Pawar’s finest contribution and one that Mumbai cricket will remember for long is the acquisition of land and subsequent construction of remarkable facilities in the Bandra Kurla Complex. Anyone with the faintest idea of Mumbai knows how impossible it is to get even a square inch of land in that maximum city and yet here was Pawar working his undisputed magic and conjuring acres of precious land for the game.
The last time anybody had performed a similar miracle was in the 1970s when the late politician/speaker SK Wankhede started a movement and succeeded in building a brand new cricket stadium (Wankhede Stadium) in a record time of 11 months. In fact so infectious was his passion and enthusiasm for building the stadium that many cricketers, umpires and volunteers helped carry two bricks apiece for the project!
Another of Pawar’s lasting legacies is the IPL. Lalit Modi had earlier failed to sell the idea to Jagmohan Dalmiya. But when Pawar became BCCI president he lapped it up and swiftly put things into motion to create one of the most outstanding success stories of Indian cricket.
The money earned from IPL enriched the coffers of the Board, affiliated state associations and also non-international IPL cricketers. It lifted many out of poverty and gave a big boost to employment. Of course it also activated many carping critics to moan about the pots of money in the hands of young cricketers (the fact that they themselves work only because of the money was, of course, conveniently ignored!). State associations build new, impressive infrastructure while the Board did plenty for players and spread of the game.
One Pawar tale that deserves to be told is the procurement of land for NCA in Bangalore. At that time Pawar was Union agriculture minister and BCCI president while JDS’ Kumarswamy was Karnataka chief minister. Pawar was in Mysore on ministry work and called up the CM and told him of NCA’s requirements.
Kumarswamy immediately invited him to Bangalore and by the time he took an helicopter ride to a hospital helipad close of Bangalore’s old airport, ministers and top bureaucrats had been summoned to a five-star hotel close to the hospital.
Pawar was pleased as punch that Kumarswamy instantly handed over 50 acres on the Bangalore-Mysore highway to the BCCI. That certainly would have developed into one of the finest cricket training infrastructures anywhere in the world. Sadly, a couple of years later, thick-headed erstwhile NCA officials returned the land to the state government and sought land near the new airport in exchange. The mess created consequently is yet to be sorted out and the BCCI seems to have lost both money and land in the process. Else the flourishing NCA would have been yet another feather in Pawar’s cap.
Pawar baiters might have scores of anti-Pawar tales to relate. But even they cannot deny that he left an indelible mark on Indian cricket and would be a tough act to follow.