“A man destined to finish as a leader”.
In the world of sports broadcasting, at present, Indian cricket is regarded as the most lucrative property. Star India has recently spent a whopping INR 6138 crore (USD 944 million) to retain the rights of Indian cricket for the 2018-23 period. The same broadcaster, last year paid INR 16,347.5 crore (US$ 2.55 billion) to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to acquire the rights of Indian Premier League (IPL) for the 2018-22 cycle.
It is this huge commercial value, which makes BCCI the undisputed powerhouse of world cricket. And one man who first conceptualised the idea of commercialising cricket in India was the late Jagmohan Dalmiya, the longest-serving BCCI president, former ICC as well as ACC (Asian Cricket Council) chief and arguably the greatest sports administrator, the sub-continent, if not the world, has ever seen.
Born in a sports-loving Marwari family in Kolkata, ‘Jaggu-Da’ (as Dalmiya was famously known in the cricket fraternity) was attached to the game early in his childhood, which was the reason why unlike most of the other contemporary administrators, he turned out to be a true cricket enthusiast. Dalmiya himself was a serious cricketer since his days in Scottish Church College and represented his college and local club teams in the Kolkata Maidan as a handy wicketkeeper-batsman.
After the completion of student-life, he joined his family business of construction and real estate, but was never away from the game. During that time Dalmiya was also an active member of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). In 1979, he took up a more serious role in cricket administration, when he first joined BCCI during the regime of Ramprakash Mehra and following that, there was no looking back. In 1983, when NKP Salve was President, Dalmiya became the Treasurer of Indian cricket board.
The first administrative success for Dalmiya was the hosting of 1987 World Cup. This was the very first time a World Cup was played outside England, marking the beginning of the end of white dominance in the cricketing world. He along with Salve, IS Bindra and Ehsan Mani were the brains behind staging that mega event in Asia.
In 1991 Dalmiya was one of the forces behind lifting the ban on South African cricket. Thanks to this revolutionary move, the world got to know about the prowess of the likes of Allan Donald, Brian McMillan, Peter Kirsten and other great South African cricketers. Dalmiya even staged this resurgence from his den, the Eden Gardens, on November 10, 1991, when the Clive Rice-led South African side took on Mohammad Azharuddin-led India in a One-Day International (ODI).
In 1996, after hosting the World Cup with grand success, Dalmiya emerged as the most important representative of Asian cricket. In the following year, he was unanimously elected as the first Asian President of ICC and during his tenure, he took this regulatory body of cricket to greater heights.
Globalising the game was one of Dalmiya’s top agenda, In order to spread the popularity of the game away from the traditional boundary, the idea of Champions Trophy was conceived. Bangladesh and Kenya hosted the first two editions of the tournament. In 2000, ACC was formed and Bangladesh were given Test status.
Following a memorable stint in ICC, for the first time, Dalmiya was elected as the President of BCCI in 2001. Many consider that was the turning point for India cricket.
After rising to the top-most administrative position of Indian cricket, Dalmiya’s initial goal was to make the game commercially viable in the country. Earlier, the BCCI used to pay the Prasar Bharati to telecast the international matches. But Dalmiya revamped this concept forever. Instead of paying, he sold broadcasting rights to private television channels, earning huge revenue for the BCCI.
The Pandora’s Box was opened.
This revenue reshaped Indian cricket completely. Foreign coaches were brought in. Modern infrastructures were installed and as a result, on-field performances improved, especially away from home. The world, for the first time, realised the potential of Indian cricket.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Furthermore, Dalmiya was always been regarded as a pro-cricketer administrator. Whenever there was an issue, like a guardian, Dalmiya was always there to protect the interest of his players. The Mike Denness incident in 2001 was a classic testament to that.
When it comes to administrative prowess, Jagmohan Dalmiya was the 911 of BCCI, until the very last moment of his life. Irrespective of whether he was in power or not, he guarded the board as a godfather and took control of the situation in case of any administrative crisis. Probably that’s why even his rivals had the greatest amount respect for Dalmiya.
Wherever BCCI or Indian cricket is at this moment, a major credit needs to be given to this the ever-smiling, soft-spoken Marwari from Kolkata who ruled the cricketing world in the pre-internet era, sitting in his room on the second floor of the CAB at Eden Gardens. The only mode of communication for Dalmiya was that a black landline in his cabin. For decades, that phone remained as the epicentre of world cricket; no one could ignore a telephone call from 033-2248-1144.
For Indian cricket, his contribution is nothing less than that of Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev or MS Dhoni. They performed on the field, but away from the limelight, Dalmiya fought off the field battles.
On September 20, 2015, it was indeed a poetic justice that Dalmiya finished his journey of life being at the top — as the president of the richest cricket board of the world.
A man destined to finish as a leader.
For me, Dalmiya will always remain the eternal godfather of Indian cricket.