Kolkata: At the height of his career, it used to be said that Jagmohan Dalmiya could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. Such was the marketing genius of the man, who brought money to Indian cricket and replicated the success when he became the first Asian to head the game’s global body.
Seasoned cricket administrator Dalmiya, 75, who died on Sunday, was also known for his resilience, with even his detractors acknowledging that he had it in him to swim back to the shore if thrown deep into the sea, or could rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes.
The septuagenarian’s almost unbelievable comeback earlier this year as the head of the country’s premier cricket body BCCI, which had once ignominiously thrown him out, only reinforced the notion.
Born in a business family in 1940, Dalmiya was a club-level cricketer. He kept wickets for two teams – Jorabagan and Rajasthan – in the (then) Calcutta cricket league, and switched to cricket administration after hanging up his gloves.
Mentored by then BCCI mandarin Biswanath Dutt, Dalmiya cut his teeth in Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) politics, one of the most chequered and marathon innings in India’s sports administration.
Dalmiya became BCCI treasurer in 1983 – the year India won the World Cup. The wily businessman didn’t take much time to understand that huge money could be brought to the game from telecast rights, and teamed up with his then friend and later big foe I.S. Bindra to bring the cricket World Cup out of the British soil for the first time in 1987, as India and Pakistan co-hosted the hugely successful Reliance Cup.
Later, he served as BCCI secretary, before becoming ICC chief for three years in 1997.
As the top man of the global body, he brought money to it too. The ICC, which had a paltry sum in its coffers when he took over, was flush with funds when Dalmiya’s stint ended in 2000.
Dalmiya was elected BCCI president in 2001. He was all-in-all in the board till his tenure ended in 2004.
Later that year, Dalmiya hoisted his acolyte Ranbir Singh Mahendra as his successor in a tantalizingly close election where then union minister Sharad Pawar threw his hat into the ring for the top post.
As the election ended in a tie, Dalmiya gave his casting vote to ensure Mahendra’s victory, prompting a dejected Pawar to remark that the entire process was unfair.
“The umpire was the bowler,” Pawar had quipped after his loss.
Dalmiya then controlled the board by proxy for a year, with Mahendra being a mere puppet.
But the Pawar camp fought back by using all means to checkmate Dalmiya at his own game in the 2005 election.
Months later, the BCCI lodged a police complaint against Dalmiya for alleged misappropriation of funds related to the 1996 World Cup in which India was a co-host.
As Dalmiya faced a police probe, the BCCI expelled him in December 2006, which also forced him to step down as CAB president, months after a nerve-wracking election which he had won by defeating then West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s nominee, city Police Commissioner Prasun Mukherjee.
In mid-2007, Dalmiya was exonerated by the court, and he returned to head the CAB in 2008, by defeating then president Mukherjee.
However, in the next few years, he seemed only a shadow of his former self. He looked old, and his lack of full fitness was talked about in CAB circles.
But the wily cricket administrator bid his time, and pulled off the first surprise when sidelined president N. Srinivasan pitchforked him to the post of BCCI interim chief in June 2013 after the spot-fixing scam emerged.
The short term as head of the board brought him back to centrestage, with also displaying his wide acceptability in the board.
Dalmiya again played his cards well after the Supreme Court ran out Srinivasan from the race.
Keeping both the lobbies headed by Srinivasan and Pawar guessing his next moves, Dalmiya deftly exploited the hostility between the two to put himself up as an acceptable candidate and ultimately won the seat unopposed.