Be it bringing his razor-sharp skills as a successful businessman to upstage adversaries in sports administration or using a unique way of saying things as much to confound as to clarify, Jagmohan Dalmiya’s place as the man who revolutionised Indian cricket and turned it into a commercial behemoth is assured.
Dalmiya was already ailing when he took charge as BCCI president early this year, after a decade of fighting to regain his lost stature in Indian cricket. But in his prime as a cricket boss, Dalmiya rarely did not have the last word.
Taking over as secretary of the BCCI in the early 1990s, he saw the zooming brand value of Indian cricket and pushed hard to turn the country into a global commercial hub. He knew money was the only way to force traditional cricket powers like England and Australia to acknowledge India, and by extension the sub-continent which staunchly backed him.
There were many milestones, and controversies. Dalmiya played an important role in South Africa’s return from an international boycott due to its Apartheid policies. His role in according Bangladesh Test status in 2000 or the International Cricket Council’s handling of chucking in the 1990s, when he was its president, though, wasn’t universally popular. The rest of the world had to grin and bear as two controversial sub-continent bowlers, Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan and Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar, were reprieved to continue in international cricket thanks to Dalmiya’s backing.
Indian cricket bosses have not been strangers to brinkmanship — the threat to leave the Australia tour if Harbhajan Singh was banned in the Monkeygate row of 2007/8 providing an instance. Dalmiya’s stand on the 2001 row in South Africa after match referee Mike Denness punished many India players for aggressive appealing, and initially penalised Sachin Tendulkar for ball-tampering, threatened world cricket but made him a hero in India.
India played the last Test against South Africa after keeping out Denness. The ICC, with Dalmiya’s adversary Malcolm Speed as CEO, insisted the subsequent home series against England would get official status only if Virender Sehwag, who played despite a one-Test ban in South Africa, served that punishment in an official game. That was perhaps the only time in his prime when Dalmiya took a step back.
Then there were fears India, with Dalmiya the president, may boycott the 2003 World Cup in South Africa unless the ICC relaxed conditions related to the players’ image clause, restricting players endorsing non-official products. India participated only after the clause was relaxed.
His powers eroded following his rivalry with Sharad Pawar, although he successfully fought court cases against him by the rival BCCI administration and his return to the helm of affairs showed even in his twilight Dalmiya, liked or disliked, could not be ignored.