Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is set to be re-elected the Indian cricket board chief for a final third term in September. Come 2008, there could be a surprise successor - Railway Minister Lalu Prasad.
Although Lalu himself has not made his position clear, people close to him have already begun lobbying among key officials of the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI).
Should this happen, it will be the culmination of a journey that Lalu Prasad - who is the president of the Bihar Cricket Association (BCA) - began in 2001 when he backed industrialist AC Muthiah against Jagmohan Dalmiya for the presidency of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Muthiah lost and Dalmiya regained control of Indian cricket after completing a two-year term as head of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
One of the first things that Dalmiya did as BCCI chief was to disaffiliate the BCA that Lalu Prasad headed and enabled him to vote in the BCCI elections. Lalu became the BCA president after stepping down as state chief minister.
Since then, Lalu Prasad has become a confirmed Dalmiya baiter as the BCA did not have a vote for four years - three years under Dalmiya and for the one year when Ranbir Singh Mahendra was in power.
In 2005, when Mahendra bid for re-election, Lalu Prasad played a key role in ensuring the support of institutional voters like the railways, services and universities to enable Pawar wrest the post.
Now making a secret pitch for Lalu - who has never played cricket himself - are BCA officials, including several former Bihar players who have turned out for the domestic Ranji Trophy cricket tournament.
"I think Laluji is the ideal person to run the BCCI. After the way he stood up to Dalmiya when the BCA was removed from the BCCI and Jharkhand given its vote, Laluji has been closely following the goings-on in Indian cricket," a senior BCA official, who did not want to be identified, told IANS on telephone from Patna.
"It is only a question of convincing the members, and several affiliated units are keen on the idea of Laluji taking over from Pawar next year after the way he has turned around the fortunes of Indian Railways," added the official.
The official appeared to suggest that the succession issue was already decided and had the blessings of the current BCCI brass.
After all, with the Dalmiya faction likely to make a pitch once again, the ruling clique needs a strong candidate to maintain its hold on the cash-rich BCCI.
The recent fiascos over players' contracts and TV rights for offshore games as well as the Afro-Asia Cup may have strongly dented the hopes of the likes of vice-presidents Lalit Modi and Shashank Manohar as Pawar's likely successors.
Modi, known for his marketing acumen, has filled the BCCI coffers with innovative selling of Indian cricket rights, while Manohar, a Pawar confidante, is a leading advocate from Nagpur. And though strong on legal issues, he has little backing from fellow BCCI administrators.
The situation is thus ripe for Lalu Prasad to throw his hat into the ring, say many of Lalu Prasad's backers in the BCCI. With his political clout in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), it may not be very difficult for the railway minister to gather enough support once more for the ruling group.
The only hitch in Lalu Prasad taking over the BCCI is the strong Maratha lobby led by former BCCI chief Rajsingh Dungarpur, who has on several occasions publicly opposed any suggestions by the Bihar strongman to project himself as Pawar's likely successor.
This lobby's West Zone covers only two states - Maharashtra and Gujarat - but commands a whopping six votes including that of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) run by Dungarpur. The CCI chief wields considerable influence in the West and can prove a stumbling block for the railway minister.
"Laluji is keen to speak to Dungarpur whenever he gets the chance. The September elections could be the best opportunity, especially with Pawar on hand to broker peace between the two," said the BCA official who has so far been representing Bihar in BCCI meetings, given Lalu Prasad's busy schedule as minister.
BCCI officials refused to comment on the succession issue.
"We have to first get the next elections out of the way, before we can even think about 2008. Right now everybody is busy finding a new coach," Ratnakar Shetty, BCCI's chief administrative officer, said from Mumbai.
Such a line of thinking would appear to give Lalu Prasad a head-start since he has started testing the waters through the BCA officials close to him.
Institutional votes from railways, services and universities are seen as a mere formality for the former Bihar chief minister. Besides, he could trigger a split in the votes from eastern states like Jharkhand and Orissa, both of whom are known Dalmiya backers.
If that happens, Lalu Prasad would be a shoo-in to take over from Pawar as the next BCCI chief in September 2008.