The man who revolutionised cricket
An excellent read about the ultimate cricketing businessman.
Jagmohan Dalmiya was in the news this week, and to everyone's surprise it was about a sports award he had won. The IJHS had done its homework.
Early this week, the scholarly IJHS -- International Journal of the History of Sport -- selected three men in sports who had shaped and evolved their game over the 25 years of their (IJHS) existence. Jagmohan Dalmiya was selected to receive the award, in addition to Juan Samaranch (Olympics) and Sepp Blatter (football).
The old men of ICC must have been miffed. Unsurprisingly, they completely ignored the IJHA's recognition of the sport they administer. Their official mouthpiece, Cricinfo, has been deathly silent on the matter, although it rarely hesitates to publish every tabloid-style rumor it can dig up on cricket.
However, it is unlikely that the 250 scholars of sports across the world who make up IJHS would be surprised by this. For their research showed not only that it was Dalmiya's vision that turned cricket into the global money-making sport it now is, but that for most of the last two decades it has been a largely uphill journey for him: a battle against the game's old powers of England and Australia that have ruled cricket as an elitist small-time sport.
The words from the IJHS must have been stinging for them: "Jagmohan Dalmiya has helped to change the face of the cricket in the last 25 years and the IJHS is proud to honour him. Dalmiya is the president of the Asian Cricket Council and a former International Cricket Council chief. An adroit administrator and entrepreneur, he engineered the global commercialisation of cricket and made the BCCI the richest cricketing body in the world."
Ironically, the IJHS probably knows more about Dalmiya's achievements than most Indians, whose media derides him largely because they choose to get their facts and education from the western media which publishes rhetoric coming out of the disgruntled old empire.
Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid brought competitiveness and recognition to Indian cricket, but it was Jagmohan Dalmiya who elevated cricket to a global sport, and India to superpower status in the game.
The media would have you believe that Dalmiya is a businessman who knows little about cricket. Nothing could be more misleading.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that Dalmiya was a master strategist. He never loses his cool, maneuvers and manipulates his opponents and supporters like so many chess pieces to win his position, and is always prepared with the facts. His communication skills are excellent, with fluent command over English, Hindi, Bengali and Marwari. He dresses immaculately, and he has an undeniably aristocratic look about him. He possesses all the ingredients of a brilliant politician. Little wonder that this man has never lost an election in his life.
At the age of 19, young and privileged Jagmohan was set for life: he had just inherited his father's Calcutta-based construction business, one of the largest in India. But he would forge his own path in the business of his beloved cricket.
Dalmiya's cricketing credentials are impressive for an administrator known mostly for his business acumen. He opened the batting and kept wicket for one of Kolkata's leading clubs, and represented his university at cricket. He once hit a double-century in club cricket. Make no mistake: Dalmiya's devotion to, and appreciation of, the game is no less than the countless Indian fans who make cricket the national sport it now is.
1983 and 1987 World Cups
Dalmiya joined the BCCI in 1979, when MA Chidambaram ran the BCCI. There he teamed up with Inderjit Bindra, influencing their administrative decisions and making himself visible.
Even then, at a relatively young age, Dalmiya had ambitions to transform Indian cricket. And when Kapil Dev's team shook up the cricketing world by winning the 1983 World Cup in England, he got his opportunity.
It was a seminal moment in the development of the game. The value of Indian cricket began to skyrocket. It was at this point that the power center started an unmistakeable and irreversible shift towards India from its traditional bastion of England.
As with so many things in life, powerful motivation came from a negative experience. The BCCI President at the time, NKP Salve, was incensed by a snub from the English organizers after India's entry into the final with the win over the host country. He had asked them for 2 tickets (paid, not complimentary) for the final but was turned down. Salve vowed to take the World Cup, which until then had never been hosted outside England, away from that country.
In a 1984 ICC meeting to discuss 1987 World Cup logistics, Dalmiya, spurred on by Salve, stunned the powers-that-be by proposing that it be held in India with some matches co-hosted in Pakistan, and laid out all organizational and financial specifics towards that end. They fought him tooth and nail, but Dalmiya and Bindra had done their homework and would not be held back. In a boardroom victory almost as astonishing as the onfield one in 1983, India eventually won the right to stage the tournament based on ICC votes from other members, much to the frustration and disapproval of England and Australia, and a satisfied Salvi had rammed home his promise.
The 1987 Reliance World Cup turned out to be a hugely successful event, which Allan Border's Australians won by beating England at a packed Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Aside from hosting a final between the very two teams whose administrative bodies had so acrimoniously opposed the venue, Salvi showed grace when he allowed some English players, who had controversially played in the shunned apartheid-based South Africa, to compete in the event.
But while an important battle had been won, the organizational success was a commercial failure. The Indian board lost USD $40,000. Despite Reliance company's sponsorship of the event, corporate sponsors were still rare. As for TV, far from paying for it, Doordarshan (then a monopoly) treated live cricket telecast as a favor it was doing for the BCCI.
But Dalmiya, ever the business visionary, was not discouraged. He sold the game relentlessly. In 1993, the BCCI started selling the potential of cricket to TV. In 1994, they sold TV rights for $1 million.
Shortly thereafter, the rights to televize all Indian cricket for five years (1994-1998) were sold to ESPN and TWI for a whopping USD $35 million, and big money had arrived in Indian cricket. The contract guaranteed the BCCI an annual income of Rs. 20 crore.
1996 World Cup
It is unlikely that the old boys in the establishment will ever forgive or forget how Dalmiya challenged and taunted them before winning the rights for the subcontinent to host the 1996 World Cup.
In 1993, ICC delegates had collected at Lord's to decide the arrangements for the 1996 World Cup. Dalmiya represented India, as BCCI Secretary. After Australia had expectedly claimed the 1991 event, India was willing to let it return to England, but Pakistan decided to bid for it. It failed, getting only 4 votes against 16 for SA and 15 for England. Pakistan turned to Dalmiya for help.
Dalmiya recruited Sri Lanka alongside Pakistan, and set in motion an ingenious campaign that leveraged the support of the 16 associate members with promises of a greater share of financial rewards from the event if it were co-hosted by India, Pakistan, and Lanka.
After a long and stormy session of vetoes and boycotts, threats and pleas, acrimony and conflict, a triumphant Dalmiya strode out of the meeting with 1996 World Cup secured -- snatched yet again from England. Fierce opposition from England, Australia and New Zealand notwithstanding, they had no option but to bow once again to the supreme politician.
As the British TV crew followed Dalmiya out of the meeting, he laughed, tongue-in-cheek, "I wonder how, with this intelligence, you could have ruled us for over 200 years."
The establishment in Lord's squirmed. Loss of power, prestige and money can sometimes be shadowed by loss of self-respect, and his mocking words rubbed salt into the wounds. If they merely resented Dalmiya before, they now feared and disliked him with a passion.
Outsmarted comprehensively in the boardroom, they sought to cast Dalmiya as a villain, and allegations of cheating, manipulation and bribery were sprinkled liberally in the western media sympathetic to them. The diatribe was bitter, running along the lines of, "cricket is becoming increasingly the province of third world politicians whose concerns for the good of the game is subservient to their lust for power and influence."
ITC Ltd, another Indian corporate giant, supported the 1996 World Cup. This time, the event was a massive financial success for the Asian Cricket Council.
1997 - ICC
Dalmiya's success on the national and international stage made him a larger-than-life figure. It gave him the confidence to challenge the established supremos to stake his claim to the final frontier of world cricket: the takeover of the ICC.
Bitter squabbles with the old boys in the ICC marked the elections in 1997. England and Australia, eternally opposed to Dalmiya, worked hard in the meetings, behind the scenes, and in the media to prevent him from coming to power. Their faithful sidekick, New Zealand, stuck by them, but they were in the minority.
It was too late to halt progress. Jagmohan Dalmiya's ascent to the pinnacle of international cricket was unstoppable, and he was annointed President of ICC.
The loss of power was galling and shocking to the old empire. This last one of Dalmiya's hat-trick was more than they could take. To this day, their media grasps at every straw to belittle Dalmiya.
Globalisation of cricket entered a new phase with Dalmiya becoming ICC President. Expansion of cricket began at this point. From Asia to Europe to North America, cricket generated millions of dollars in sponsorships and television rights and the ICC became wealthy beyond their wildest expectations. Cricket generated serious money, and started to be recognized seriously in the world of sports. It is as a result of that expansion that it will soon become an Olympic event.
When Jagmohan Dalmiya took over as the first Asian president of the ICC, the world body's financial health was shaky. It had a pitiful $37,000 in its kitty. By the time Dalmiya, with his extraordinary ability to attract sponsors and sell his ideas, finished his term 3 years later, it had become 30 times richer with $11 million in cash.
Throughout his term, Dalmiya fought fire from the fallen empire. With the help of their media, they sniped at him constantly and spread disinformation about him.
Dalmiya's commitment to equal application of the law was apparent from his support of Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar. Setting aside political realities, he threw his weight behind Shoaib, who was targetted by the Aussies ever since he took over the coveted title of "fastest bowler in the world".
Brett Lee, Shoaib's Aussie rival, had an action equally as suspicious as the Pakistani's. Both bowlers were regarded as chucking some of their fast ones, by experts as well as fans. Both were reported by ICC umpires. Shoaib, however, was banned while Lee, with support from Malcom Speed (then the ACB President) and Aussie chucking experts, was able to dodge even a review of his action, getting away scot-free. Shoaib was not only reviewed but confirmed as a chucker, ironically by Aussie experts, and required to change his action. In fact, he was reported twice.
But Dalmiya was not having any of this differential treatment. To the extreme displeasure of the Aussies, he used his executive powers to quash the ban on Shoaib Akhtar. English and Aussie ICC representatives along with their media once again went to town on Dalmiya, unmindful of the fact that by all accounts the President had done the fair thing here, and doubly irritated by the fact that they had unwittingly united India and Pakistan on at least cricketing issues.
By the time Dalmiya stepped down, ICC and cricket had prospered beyond their wildest dreams. His project of "globalization" was opposed by some, but eventually took root. "My only regret is that they took too long to understand it," he said, just before laying down office.
The ICC was then taken over by the two Malcoms from Australia - Gray and Speed - whose effect on cricket was deeply divisive. Together, they would polarize the cricket world with their combative and controversial style and aggravate the rift between the new and old world.
2000 - BCCI
Dalmiya was not yet done. He returned to Kolkata and contested the BCCI elections in 2000, easily winning it to become President of the Indian cricket body.
During this time, he exponentially grew the financial worth of Indian cricket and virtually dominated the ICC as a heavyweight member of that body.
Unable to resist the influence of India on cricket, the ICC did much to alienate it. ICC policies, selection of officials in the umpire and referee panels, and inconsistent on-field decisions made by them have been constantly surrounded by suspicion and controversy.
Dalmiya, in concert with the SA cricket board, forced out English match referee Mike Deness from the Test series in South Africa after he imposed 6 penalties including unjustified bans and fines on Indian players on a single day, widely regarded as a poisonous and vengeful action against an emerging power. That was the end of Deness's career as a match referee, and an official ICC inquiry (forced by Dalmiya) into his actions was repeatedly delayed and eventually cancelled, purportedly due to ill health.
When ICC told Indian players to drop their sponsors because of conflict with ICC sponsors in the 2003 World Cup, Dalmiya stood up for the Indian players. "Our players have the freedom to choose their sponsors," Dalmiya said. "We can't force them to tell their sponsors to stop promotional activities because they are conflicting with ICC sponsors. It's a violation of their fundamental rights." Several Indians including Kapil Dev and NKP Salve filed court cases against the ICC.
Malcom Speed, enraged by this support, held back India's $10 million share of profits from that World Cup for over a year, despite the fact that of the total $250 million revenue ICC got from that tournament, an estimated 90% came from Indian companies seeking to promote their products. It took threats of legal action from Dalmiya for the ICC to part with that money.
Building up Infrastructure
The troika of Jagmohan Dalmiya, Sourav Ganguly, and John Wright have together led to the golden period of Indian cricket history.
Dalmiya propelled Indian cricket forward by embracing progressive ideas, hiring foreign professionals to support the Indian team, promoting A tours, investing in domestic academies and infrastructure, and steeply raising salaries within first-class cricket to a point where the sport has become a viable career in India.
Thanks largely to captain Ganguly, who was often assured of support from fellow-Kolkattan Dalmiya, Indian cricket gained a confidence, aggression and flair never before seen, even in the 1983 team that won the Cup. The soft-spoken Wright, along with trainer Adrian Le Roux and physio Andrew Leipus, complemented him in a winning combination.
Dalmiya's faults are overshadowed by his achievements, but they are there. Chief among these is his, and BCCI's, staunch opposition to the formation of an independant player's union. The ICPA has failed to take off because of discouragement from the BCCI, and Dalmiya's belief that he can represent the players when needed. However, there is a clear need for the players to have an independant voice in matters where the BCCI will not be inclined to support them.
In addition, his tendency to rake in financial rewards sometimes defy logic. For example, the numerous ODI tournaments that he schedules for the Indian team leads to burnout and injuries. The urgency and frequency with which he has pursued resumption of India-Pakistan cricket begs the question whether financial interests take precedence over common sense.
However, it is easy to assume that the man running the organization is responsible for everything the organization does. It is possible that the BCCI has pushed him to take these stances.
All good things must end
Dalmiya's final term as BCCI President completed late last year, when BCCI appeared well set to sell TV rights for the next four years for an astronomical USD $300 million. Zee and ESPN bid for the rights, although the actual winner has yet to be determined.
Without Dalmiya running BCCI, the TV rights issue as well as many others have come unravelled. Wright has resigned, and Ganguly has lost captaincy due to just the sort of ICC action that Dalmiya fought, by just the type of official that has been the bane of cricket, Chris Broad.
The troika of Indian cricket is no more, and the golden period of Indian cricket appears to be over. The future looks dimmer.
But Dalmiya is still there, and still interested in cricket. He is still the chief of ACC (Asian Cricket Council) and CAB (Cricket Association of Bengal), although his power in the BCCI has diminished considerably. Senseless Indian media articles, looking to emulate western media, attack him often.
But early this week, IJHS gave Dalmiya an international award for his contributions to the game. He can take heart from the fact that at least the well-informed understand the work he has done.
One can only hope that soon, a worthy successor will rise up to carry forward the work of this pioneer of Indian cricket.