Arun Jaitley served Indian cricket for close to two decades without ever assuming the high offices in the BCCI. He was a vice-president, but he was never president or secretary — the two powerful positions.
But that didn’t stop him from being the vital cog that kept the giant wheel that is Indian cricket moving. Little wonder then that on the day he departed, the one-time cricket colleagues of the former cricket administrator mourned what they all agreed was an “irreparable loss” to the game in the country.
Jaitley, 66, passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on Saturday after a prolonged illness. He was admitted on August 9.
Actually, if he wanted, Jaitley could have got any post of his choice in the BCCI. On more than one occasion, he was the unanimous choice of members to be the BCCI president but he opted out.
Former BCCI secretary and past national selector Sanjay Jagdale recalls the acrimonious 2005 BCCI elections that was won by veteran politician Sharad Pawar. “When I asked him (Jaitley), why he pulled out, he told me, ‘Pawar is a friend. I will wait for my turn’,” recalls Jagdale.
Jagdale has one regret, he couldn’t fulfill a promise he gave Jaitley. “He liked poetry, Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Madhushala to be precise. I had told him that I would gift the album where Amitabh Bachchan is reciting his father’s Madhushala. But after I resigned, we didn’t meet again. Dev Anand was a common love for us,” Jagdale said, speaking to The Indian Express.
Being a legal luminary, he was obviously the BCCI’s go-to man. “His opinion was sought in financial matters as well. When the BCCI had issues with service tax, he led the cricket board’s delegation to the government and settled it. Mr Jaitley was a genuine cricket lover, who would turn up at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium to watch a game. He preferred to sit with the selectors and talked about cricket for hours. He was a politician, but he was against any government interference in the BCCI. The Board no longer has persons of his stature,” Jagdale said.
The BCCI issued a statement on Saturday: “The Board of Control for Cricket in India condones the sad demise of its former Vice-President and a former IPL Governing Council member, Shri Arun Jaitley.
“A remarkable statesman, Mr Jaitley was a passionate cricket follower and will always be remembered as one of the most able and respected cricket administrators. During his long tenure as the president of the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA), he brought about a tremendous change in the cricketing infrastructure. A close friend of the cricketers, he always stood by them, encouraged them and supported them in their quest for excellence. The BCCI shares the pain and grief of the Jaitley family and prays for the departed soul.”
Jaitley entered cricket administration in 1999, first as the DDCA president followed by his stints in various cricket board committees before becoming a cricket board vice-president in 2008. He served Indian cricket for five years in that capacity.
BCCI old hand Prof Ratnakar Shetty reminisced about how Jaitley’s legal acumen had helped the Indian players. The Mike Denness incident in 2001 had snowballed into a huge controversy. The former England batsman was the match referee for the India-South Africa series and sanctioned six Indian players for various offences during the Port Elizabeth Test.
Sachin Tendulkar was given a suspended one Test ban for ball-tampering charges, Virender Sehwag got a one Test ban for excessive appealing, while Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Shiv Sunder Das and Deep Dasgupta, too, had been handed suspended sentences. “Mr Dalmiya, then BCCI president, had turned to Mr Jaitley, who advised the BCCI to challenge the match referee’s decision. We stuck to our point and refused to budge,” Prof Shetty said.
The ICC backed Denness, but the South African board sided with the BCCI and replaced Denness with Denis Lindsay for the third Test, which the global body declared “unofficial”.
Seven years later, when the alleged Monkeygate happened at the SCG — where off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was accused of directing an alleged racial slur at Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds — the Indian board once again sought Jaitley’s help.
“Mr Jaitley suggested that VR Manohar – a former advocate general of Maharashtra and current International Cricket Council president Shashank Manohar’s father – should become the BCCI’s counsel at the hearing. Accordingly, Mr Manohar defended Harbhajan and the player was acquitted,” Prof Shetty recalled.
BCCI treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry called Jaitley’s passing away a “personal loss”. “I have seen Mr Jaitley in the corridors of the Delhi High Court and I have seen him in the corridors of the BCCI. He was a gem of a person. I was fortunate to be part of that group of people (in the BCCI) he had a soft corner for. He would add so much value to every conversation and the anecdotes he narrated always provided invaluable experience to youngsters like me.”
Chaudhry says Jaitley was a problem solver and a crisis manager. “He had a very pragmatic approach to situations. Somebody you could always turn to in times of need. He was definitely an integral part of the BCCI, who went on to join the Union cabinet. Once he was in the Union cabinet, not once did he interfere in the BCCI (matters).”
Chaudhry rued the fact that the cricket board at the moment is missing someone with Jaitley’s legal acumen. “The decisions taken by the BCCI at that point of time were always legally very sound; a quality that the BCCI is sorely missing today.”
The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) joint-secretary Avishek Dalmiya, who saw the former DDCA president at close quarters as Jagmohan Dalmiya’s son, said as much.
“It is massively heartbreaking news for Indian cricket, as it lost one of its finest administrators ever. Jaitley ji was one of the few persons who genuinely loved Indian cricket and someone who always came forward to protect the BCCI when the chips were down. Being an eminent lawyer, he would take centre-stage in such adverse situations and guide the Board on the way forward,” Avishek said.