As a bureaucrat, I have encountered some of the most powerful politicians. Some days ago, I jogged my memory to make an honest assessment of each one of them.. They all had strong points, but I put Sharad Pawar at the top. He commanded the respect of the BCCI members not because of his stature in politics, but because he had been fair and reasonable. That's statesmanship for me.
We have had a couple of highly gracious presidents and Mr Pawar is one of them. How else can one explain his calling up Jagmohan Dalmiya to invite him to dinner, when he learnt that he was in Mumbai, on the eve of the Annual General Meeting? For the assembled press it turned out to be a great photo-op and got the fertile media minds ticking.
Mr Pawar's lasting contribution was to re-mould the board into a cohesive unit and more importantly, leaving it in safe hands. We now have a highly unassuming yet dynamic Shashank Manohar as the chief of the body to carry forward the vision of Team Pawar.
Seldom have I seen, in my 40 years of association with the game, such a smooth transition and that too to a team that can carry forward his work. By handing over the baton to Shashank, Mr Pawar has ensured further consolidation of the gains of the last three years.
His successor's greatest quality is that he takes every decision after due deliberation and by building a consensus. Once taken, he sticks by it. The ideal example is when he refused to budge on the decision not to allow administrators to double up as selectors.
Can anyone imagine that Shashank is so down-to-earth that he did not have a passport till he had to go to Dubai to attend an ICC meeting on the insistence of Mr Pawar? It is now public knowledge that he does not carry a cell phone! Mr Pawar's policy of horses-for-courses is set to pay rich dividends.
Who can now say that the board should be corporatized or professionalised on the lines of some other boards in the so-called developed world? India's present setup of democratically elected functionaries taking all the major policy decisions has proved to be most effective.
The president and vice-president Arun Jaitley are among the best legal brains in the country. Secretary N Srinivasan is a captain of the industry who understands how to maintain cashbooks when the board is flush with such huge remittances. He has revolutionised the working of the treasury.
Is there a better marketing man than Lalit Modi -- an acknowledged wizard who created the IPL? Come to cricket, and you have Shivlal Yadav, Mohinder Pandove and Sanjay Jagdale who understand the game as players and know their specific requirements. How can anyone say there are no cricketers in the board?
In the last three years, I have heard some people say Shashank and Srinivasan are hardliners. The perception, perhaps, germinated from Shashank's self-effacing persona and Srinivasan's corporate thinking.
Both believe in performance and merit as the sole criteria for assessment. What people do not seem to see behind this veneer is the steadfast adherence to the basic tenets of the board's constitution by the two. Of course, they are no-nonsense men to boot. People will find them impossible to manipulate. As such, the board's consolidation and its unfettered progress are guaranteed.
Mr Pawar, on a visit to Mohali to inaugurate the indoor facility, was so impressed with the ground equipment displayed by our curator Daljit Singh that he wanted every association to ape it as a model.
Within a couple of months, the state-of-the-art equipment was made available to all state bodies. Mr. Pawar and his team were responsible for raising the infrastructure subsidy from Rs 4 crore to Rs 50 crore. The results are that today we have ultra-modern stadiums and facilities in Hyderabad, Andhra, Delhi and Nagpur. Rajkot, Pune and Guwahati are on fast track to completion.
Mr Pawar is responsible for creating one of the finest coaching facilities at the Bandra-Kurla complex in Mumbai. Demolition at Wankhede is going on and it will have a brand new facility, as good as the best in the world, ready in time for 2011 World Cup.
Why go that far? The board today has the best headquarters of all the ICC member countries. No more spending big on holding working committee meets or AGMs at five-star hotels. They are now held at the Cricket Centre. Soon a museum on the lines of 'Halls of Fame' in the US, is going to come up.
ICC main man
When you assess people, personal equations do come into play. To illustrate Mr Pawar's sincerity of approach, I must confess I was immensely touched on the day he set right an earlier manipulated defeat into a massive victory.
One of the first things he did soon after he was elected president in Kolkata was to call me to say that he would be nominating me to represent the board at the International Cricket Council (ICC).
I told him that some of us had been fighting for a decade only to restore the highest traditions and ethos of the board on sound fundamentals. One of them is that the president is the supreme leader and his powers cannot be diluted or usurped by any other authority. So, only the board president has the right to represent the country at the ICC and he alone can nominate an alternative director to attend the meetings when he is otherwise occupied.
Again, last year when it came to nominating an Indian for the ICC president, Mr Pawar insisted that I "deserve the position." And he qualified his statement with his indisputable logic. I protested again and reiterated that he was the right person to hold the office at such a critical juncture in ICC's history. Needless to mention his was the most popular choice. He is sure to transform international cricket the same way he has changed the face of Indian Cricket.
Then again, back in 1996 the representatives of all full members of the ICC including the president, the late Sir Clyde Walcott, requested me to accept the position as the next chief. I refused because I had already made a commitment to someone who I thought was an inseparable friend -- Dalmiya. That gesture was forgotten and my fight for restoring the board's good old traditions was dubbed as an offshoot of jealousy for missing out on becoming the ICC chief!
Team Pawar's achievements cannot be discussed in one consolidated piece. Its working and his own contribution can be the subject matter of a deep study for cricket historians; it cannot be a peripheral observance.
In the next part, I would like to relate how Team Pawar addressed some vital issues that changed the face of Indian cricket. Watch this space in the coming days for more on that. The third part will be devoted to the vision and plans of Manohar and his dream team.