The most coveted job in Indian cricket is not that of the coach or captain, it is the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. In recent years, the incumbent has automatically become the most powerful man in the game, respected and hated in equal measure from Mumbai to London and from Cape Town to Sydney. India is where the money is, where the television audience is the largest, where a domestic tournament like the IPL has made millionaires of players around the world.
When Jagmohan Dalmiya and then N. Srinivasan were Presidents, they were criticised for placing their ambitions and India’s needs above what was seen as the game’s requirements. But it meant that the BCCI emerged as the most dominant ruling body in the game, more powerful than even the International Cricket Council. As Tiger Pataudi once said, “If the International Cricket Council is the voice of cricket, the BCCI is the invoice of cricket.”
Then Srinivasan overreached as he tried to defend his son-in-law betting on IPL matches, forcing the Supreme Court to take a call and change the system. On October 23, the final act in the drama that began with the spot fixing scandal in the 2013 IPL, seems set to conclude with the election of office-bearers to the BCCI. That is six long years of intransigence, confusion, rap on the knuckles, sackings of the top officials, new rules, administrative uncertainty, the Committee of Administrators and their issues, rewritten constitutions, more court cases and decisions that veered between caution and aggression. It will mean the end of the phase of power without responsibility (CoA) and responsibility without power (BCCI).
Through it all, the allure of the top job in the BCCI has remained undimmed. Politicians, businessmen, career sports officials, cricketers, puppets on strings controlled by others have all eyed it, displaying a remarkable willingness to make “sacrifices” for the cause.
This is partly because more money passes through the President’s hands – theoretically speaking – than through those of any other office-bearer or player anywhere else. There is too the enormous media coverage which can be monetised by businessmen and usually reinforces a political career.
The power, prestige and pelf associated with the job often attracts politicians, which is hardly surprising. Already there is talk of Home Minister Amit Shah’s son throwing his hat into the ring. Another possibility is Rajat Sharma, President of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association whose nomination has provoked complaints from his own association. The clear picture will emerge later this week. If a politician from the ruling party is in the fray, then it is unlikely that a cricketer will contest. Sourav Ganguly, former India captain, has been quoted as saying that if he is to take over, then it will have to be a unanimous decision. At 47, he is young, has been President of the Cricket Association of Bengal and head of the board’s technical committee and brings with him a wealth of experience as a cricket person as opposed to a politician for whom the post is likely to be a mere stepping stone to something else.
According to reports, BCCI’s electoral officer has received over a hundred objections from various associations on different issues including the naming of representatives to the general body meeting. The number probably indicates a range from the ridiculous to the sublime, but each will have to be dealt with satisfactorily before the elections can proceed.
A couple of decades ago, when Indian cricket was down in the dumps, with a captain (among others) accused of match-fixing, it was Ganguly, the new captain who lifted the team from despair to delight with victories at home and abroad and placed the team on the route to the number one ranking. And now he gets another opportunity to raise the image of administration in India, shaken by corruption and personality clashes and for three years now administered by a team appointed by the Supreme Court.
Ganguly once famously said when he was captain that he had the second toughest job in the country (after the Prime Minister’s); he might discover that given the circumstances, the job of the board president might deserve that ranking. He didn’t shrink from a challenge then, and is unlikely to shrink from one now. His relative youth and the fact that he has been in continuous touch with the game since he last played the IPL in 2012, make him the kind of candidate the Lodha Commission (on which the Supreme Court based its rulings) had in mind when it suggested that more players should be encouraged to take up administration in a country where the officials often appear out of touch with the times.
Whichever way it goes, there will be enormous relief in cricketing circles. Uncertainty is never a good companion in sport, and, hopefully a new-look BCCI will have taken on board recent lessons. Even old wine in old bottles will come with a fresh set of instructions.