Towards the middle of next week, Sourav Ganguly will assume charge as the 39th president of the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India. The former skipper also becomes the first international cricketer since 1954 to be elected – unanimously – to the highest administrative post in the sport in the country, following in the footsteps of the Maharaja of Vizianagaram.
Himself referred to as Maharaj for reasons well-documented, Ganguly’s dramatic last-minute elevation to the BCCI presidency might have been driven by exigencies of convenience and necessity, but there is no denying his credentials or pedigree. He isn’t there merely because he was a very successful Indian captain, but also because he has cut his administrative teeth at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), where he has served as joint-secretary and then president for more than five years now.
It’s interesting, and possibly coincidental, that Ganguly’s stewardship of the Indian board comes in circumstances not dissimilar to those under which he was elevated to the national captaincy. Sachin Tendulkar had announced his decision to step down midway through the home Test series against South Africa in February 2000. Ganguly was perhaps as much of a left-field choice then as he is now; Anil Kumble was vastly more experienced but the captaincy was conferred on the more tempestuous left-hander from Kolkata.
Also Read | MC Mary Kom vs Nikhat Zareen: The Bout Indian Boxing Needs But May Not Get
Not long after he took command, the match-fixing scandal blew up in the collective faces of world cricket, necessitating Ganguly and his men to not just start winning matches but also the trust, confidence and respect of a cricket-mad country. Blessed with men of great skills and impeccable integrity in the shape of Tendulkar, Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Javagal Srinath, among others, Ganguly embarked on the arduous journey and came out with flying colours, the epochal 2-1 series win at home against Australia in March 2001 the unquestioned turning point on the road to redemption.
Now, Ganguly takes charge ahead of Karnataka stalwart, Brijesh Patel, who was widely tipped to crown his successful administrative career by becoming the new BCCI president. A former India batsman himself, Patel served as the secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association for close to 14 years and appeared a shoo-in to lead the way forward in the immediacy of the post-Committee of Administrators era until the wheels of fortune, among other things, turned things Ganguly’s way. Like in 2000, the challenges in front of the suave, charming yet unyielding Ganguly are myriad, not least returning the faith of the followers of the sport in the functioning of a body that has shuddered and juddered in the last six or so years following the betting/match-fixing episodes which have sullied the reputation of the Indian Premier League.
Already, Ganguly has spoken to the media more often in the last five days since it became clear that he would be the next BCCI head honcho than his predecessors did in the previous several years. That should come as no surprise to anyone, given that Ganguly will remain a cricketer first and an administrator next even if the roles have ostensibly been reversed now. Ganguly is the product of the modern era – not exactly the twitter-facebook-instagram age but definitely far removed from the telex-fax period – and has always understood the significance of transparency to the extent permissible, though in his playing days, we were always well-advised to check the veracity of some of the statistics he willy-nilly doled out. He will speak his heart – he will speak, for starters! – and that’s definitely not unwelcome, not with the Indian board in desperate need of an image overhaul following the messy developments of the last few years.
Video | ADHM 2019: Growth of the Delhi Half Marathon
Traditionally, the post of the BCCI president has been largely ceremonial unless the profile of the individual occupying that seat commanded otherwise. The executive duties are carried out by the secretary, though in the post-Justice Lodha reforms days, much of the decision-making responsibilities have been sought to be transferred from the elected office-bearers to the paid professionals. It is significant that, in the last few days, not a peep has been heard from Jay Shah, the incoming secretary, even as Ganguly is being quoted in various reports almost on a daily basis.
When Ganguly speaks, of course, the whole country sits up and takes notice. Which is why it is noteworthy that among his first comments since it became obvious that he would be the next board president, he chose to focus on the lot of first-class cricketers, and on the pressing need for infrastructural development. Without saying it in as many words, he has made it clear that his focus will primarily be on matters cricketing, though he isn’t averse either to taking on the International Cricket Council as he seeks to return India’s primacy within the corridors of power in the world body.
As things stand, Ganguly will have to bow out of administration some ten months hence. The mandatory cooling off period after two successive terms will ensure that he has limited time in which to try and make a difference, but that will not faze one of the greatest limited-overs batsmen of all time. He has shown himself to be proactive even in the last four or five days, and the fact that he has called for a meeting with various managers in the BCCI a day before he formally becomes the board boss on October 23 is further indication that he won’t allow grass to grow under his feet.
Also Read | The Indian Athlete and the Spinning Vortex of Failure
Ganguly arrives swept forward not merely by a massive wave of goodwill and support, but also with great expectations and a sense of frenzied anticipation. It’s unlikely that too much would have been expected of anyone else but him in the current scenario. Ganguly, however, has always been uniquely his own man; if anything, he will be delighted that so many expect so much from him in so short a time because as history will bear testimony, nothing has spurred him on more than the scent of a battle and its unforgiving challenges.
There is much interest about how things will pan out between Ganguly and Ravi Shastri, the head coach of the national side. It’s no secret that the two former skippers aren’t the best of buddies, but Ganguly will not want to be seen as using his using his authority to settle scores, real or imagined. His ‘Why, what has he done now?!’ quip on being asked if he had spoken to Shastri recently is typical Ganguly – inasmuch as there is anything like that. After all, it is impossible to typecast the man, he is anything but predictable.
As batsman and captain, Sourav Ganguly has left behind a rich legacy of promise fulfilled. There is little reason to believe that he can’t do likewise as the president of the BCCI – whether that is for a mere ten months, or for a more substantial period of time.
(Kaushik is a veteran cricket writer who has reported on over 100 Tests. He co-authored VVS Laxman's autobiography '281 and Beyond')
Read more sports stories from Newsclick