Jagmohan Dalmiya: The genius Marwari Babumoshai who died with his boots on
There have been two other Indians who have headed the ICC – Sharad Pawar and N Srinivasan – but Dalmiya provided the big breakthrough.
"I threw in the towel very early, the man’s a wizard," Mark Mascarenhas said about Jagmohan Dalmiya when I asked him about whether the latter was a tough nut to crack to get the television rights for the 1996 cricket World Cup.
"You can’t beat him at numbers," explained Mascarenhas. "And the fascinating part is he squeezes the most out of a deal while leaving you feeling that he has done you a favour, not the other way around."
Mascarenhas, founder of WorldTel and otherwise more renowned as the man who made Sachin Tendulkar a dollar millionaire as his agent, would have known best about the 'Marwari babumoshai's' (as he liked to call him) prowess at understanding not just finance, but also opportunism.
He worked closely with Dalmiya (critics alleged that the two were hand-in-glove) for almost a decade after he moved from the United States to the sub-continent, driven as much by his passion for cricket (he was a Bangalore boy) as for the massive commercial prospects in Indian cricket.
Mascarenhas's strategy was to get a foothold in Indian cricket via the Cricketers Benefit Fund Scheme (CBFS) run by Abdul Rehman Bukhatir in Sharjah. He got a better understanding of the dynamics of Indian cricket politics from there while interacting with BCCI officials and struck up a strong relationship with Dalmiya.
I am dwelling on this aspect of Dalmiya’s career because this seems pertinent to examine in hindsight. Everything is not only well-known but also rather prosaic. How Dalmiya combined with Mascarenhas to make BCCI not just the financial powerhouse, but the most powerful Board in the sport is the crux.
Till the early 1990s, the middle-level industrialist from Kolkata was still cocooned in the relatively narrow politics of Indian cricket. Most Indian administrators were then in the game, to speak, for prestige. Power too, but restricted largely to their own country rather than establishing a global footprint.
True, getting the 1987 World Cup to the sub-continent from England was a major coup master-minded by the then president NKP Salve with Dalmiya and IS Bindra, two thick friends, as his chief executioners.
But while that broke England’s hegemony, it still didn’t have the coffers of the BCCI ringing or made India the cricket power it is today. Money obviously was the key to India’s rise to becoming the pre-eminent force in the sport.
Before the 1990s, India could guarantee the biggest spectatorship. That provided a great deal of romance about Indian cricket, but did not translate into clout.
The transformation of Indian cricket into a multi-billion dollar industry that would soon have the rest of the cricket universe in virtual obeisance started in the 1990s, with the chemistry between Dalmiya and Mascarenhas being a key factor.
A marketing and sales whiz-kid himself, Mascarenhas opened up the prospects of monetising Indian cricket. An economy that had just started being liberalised offered multiple opportunities and whetted the appetite of the Marwari businessman.
The key to this was television rights for Indian cricket. Given the size of the Indian diaspora and the rapid penetration of cable TV, these rights which had been sold for a pittance earlier, suddenly zoomed into staggering deals.
His genius with numbers and opportunism made Dalmiya give the commercialisation of Indian cricket a massive thrust that continues to this day. Mascarenhas, of course, got a share of the pie but, as he explained, not for crumbs, though it did help establish himself as the premier TV rights holder and player agent.
In turn, I believe Mascarenhas stoked Dalmiya’s ambition to spread his wings as an administrator. He had been secretary and treasurer of the BCCI. Becoming president was a cinch if he bided his time.
But after being the head of the 1996 World Cup Organising Committee, he had been exposed to the world, as it were. Now, after some prodding by the WorldTel chief undoubtedly, Dalmiya aimed to be the president of the ICC.
No other Indian cricket administrator before Dalmiya had shown such temerity. There were serious misgivings about his standing for this position. But by 1997, when the elections took place, Dalmiya had won over enough support from some full and a majority of associate ICC members because Indian cricket had the financial wherewithal to assuage or win them over.
There have been two other Indians who have headed the ICC – Sharad Pawar and N Srinivasan – but Dalmiya provided the big breakthrough. When he stepped on to the hallowed turf at Lord’s to present the World Cup trophy to Steve Waugh in 1999, the suzerainty of Indian cricket had been established.
The period after became a roller-coaster ride for Dalmiya. He became the BCCI chief in 2000, a position he held till 2004, but by then the dramatis personae as well as the culture in Indian cricket administration had seen a big change.
His buddy-buddy relationship with Bindra had collapsed, ostensibly because of a clash of ambition for the same positions. More importantly, the BCCI’s cash rich status (and the sport’s appeal through the length and breadth of the country) saw people from all kinds of political dispensations jumping into the fray.
It can justifiably be argued that while Dalmiya took Indian cricket to the very top financially, there was not enough attempt made to make the BCCI’s administration more efficient with robust checks and balances.
Player power, money power and political power seemed to become more important than prowess at the game itself. In 2004, he somehow managed to win the elections for his proxy Ranbir Singh Mahendra, but clearly the wind had changed direction in the BCCI.
Dalmiya had the ignominy of being hounded out from the Board a couple of years later. But he fought a protracted legal battle to clear his name and emerged some years later, quite extraordinarily, as the only person who rival factions within the BCCI could trust!
A lesser man would have surrendered and sailed into the sunset, having achieved everything that cricket administration had to offer. But Dalmiya soldiered on, his passion for cricket and cricket politics undimmed.
Largely this was as a consensus choice in times of internecine dispute as his election as BCCI president in the last elections, despite failing health, showed. By then, of course, it was clear that he was a spent force. But he still died with his boots on.
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