Jagmohan Dalmiya was not keeping well of late. Age-related illnesses had rendered him a little ineffective. He came to the BCCI working committee meeting at Taj Bengal on August 28. He didn’t look in top shape, but there was little hint that he had death at his doorstep. As former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee described it, Dalmiya’s sudden demise came like a “bolt from the blue”. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Anurag Thakur was even more precise; Indian cricket has lost its “father figure”.
Dalmiya was a revolutionary. He changed Indian cricket and also the world order. In 1983, as India reached the World Cup final, the then BCCI president NKP Salve had asked for a few more complimentary passes from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). He was flatly denied. Dalmiya, the then board treasurer, took it as a personal affront. Alongwith IS Bindra, he started the backroom maneuvering (creating of the Asian bloc) to wrest the power from England’s clutches. Four years down the line, India had been hosting the World Cup. Dalmiya had changed the game. It was the first time the World Cup was held outside England. In 1996, when the subcontinent hosted the World Cup for a second time, India had already become the new super power of world cricket.
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Dalmiya had to battle on two fronts. First, he had to put his house in order; commercially. And he did it in 1993, breaking the state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan’s monopoly over the live telecast of cricket matches in India. The BCCI had to pay DD around Rs 5 lakh per game to telecast cricket matches. Dalmiya and Bindra brought Trans World International (TWI) ahead of the India-England series. It ensured that the BCCI made a profit of around $600,000. It changed Indian cricket forever.
Overhauling the International Cricket Council (ICC) was also on his agenda as he took charge of the world body in 1997. “He taught the ICC how to capitalise on its new revenue stream,” former ICC CEO Malcolm Speed once said. Make no mistake, the two were not the best of friends but the Aussie had to salute the Kolkata businessman’s administrative acumen. His cricket politics was inclusive.
Dalmiya returned to Indian cricket and against huge odds he decided to contest the BCCI presidential election in 2001. Beating AC Muttiah in his lair appeared to be almost impossible. But Dalmiya performed a miracle. For the next four years, he controlled everything in Indian cricket before Sharad Pawar gathered enough support to upstage him.
Dalmiya was humiliated. He was expelled from the BCCI for alleged misappropriation of funds. Arrest warrant was issued against him. It was the most difficult phase of his career. But he fought tooth and nail and exonerated himself in the court of law. The whole thing took a huge toll on his health.
Dalmiya, however, was destined to go as a winner. Natural justice had to prevail. His return as the BCCI president for a second stint in March this year was completely unexpected, notwithstanding the fact that he had the interim charge in 2013, when the IPL spot-fixing and betting controversy broke. But the scandal became N Srinivasan’s bugbear and the Supreme Court prevented him from contesting the elections. Dalmiya became the unanimous choice to take over. Redemption was complete.
The old master returned, but the game had changed. He was struggling to get into the groove. His failing health didn’t help. He had been skipping the BCCI meetings except the very important ones. On Thursday, he was admitted to the BM Birla Heart Research Centre, complaining of breathlessness and severe chest pain. For the last couple of days, however, his condition was said to be stable. But it started to worsen since Sunday morning. Around 9pm, he breathed his last. He was 75.
Born in a Marwari business family, Dalmiya studied at the Scottish Church College. He was a decent club-level wicketkeeper and a handy middle-order batsman. He joined the BCCI in 1979, became its treasurer in 1983 and eventually became the guardian of Indian cricket. The game will mourn his death.