MY first interaction with Jaywant Lele, who passed away on Thursday night in Baroda, was when an India bowler insisted he didn’t have a shoulder problem on a tour of Sri Lanka in the late 1990s.
“Why is he lying?” roared Lele over his land line in Baroda. That was enough material for a headline in this newspaper. Headlines are what Lele became synonymous with in his term as Board of Control for Cricket in India secretary. He famously predicted that India would lose 0-3 in Australia on the 1999-2000 Test tour. But there was more to Jaywant Lele than statements.
He loved his cricket and would do anything for his Baroda boys like Anshuman Gaekwad, Kiran More and Nayan Mongia. Even Irfan Pathan, who told ESPN Cricinfo yesterday that the influential Lele helped him get a passport in time for a tour.
In Lele’s eyes, Gaekwad was a highly successful coach; Nayan Mongia was simply the best wicketkeeper in business. More was with him on the day of his death. It is learnt that Gaekwad and More wanted Lele to return to Baroda cricket administration after the next elections.
More spent an hour and a half with his mentor on Thursday afternoon. They talked cricket and Lele recalled his meeting with actor Aamir Khan, who was with Sachin Tendulkar and Mongia. When Aamir left, Lele asked the two cricketers who the third player was. That incident proved he was no movie-watcher.
Lele was an ally to the media in the days when Jagmohan Dalmiya called the shots in Indian cricket. Often, he was forthcoming, providing enough details to fill newspaper columns. But at times, he could be stubborn. I recall a journalist questioning him over why Team India physiotherapist Andrew Leipus would not be present at a conditioning camp. “He won’t be there,” said Lele. When the journalist repeated his ‘why’, Lele shot back: “He won’t be there, that’s all.”
Lele knew everyone there was to know in cricket. He took great pride in his friendship with Malcolm Speed, who went on to become the chief executive of the International Cricket Council and Tim Lamb, the former chief executive of England and Wales Cricket Board. When Lele needed 10 tickets for the Australia vs Pakistan World Cup final in 1999, Lamb was only too happy to oblige him.
Their friendship apart, there was a reason. In his autobiography, Lele revealed what Lamb told him: “See, as an organiser and host, I have observed that your team has never put us in any inconvenience. When the scheduled time of the bus was 8 am, your entire team was ready by 7:55 always. They have never complained about the arrangements and have taken everything amicably. I appreciate them.”
Lele wrote: “Frankly, I felt very happy about our team. I came out of the ECB office proud to be an Indian.”
On my last trip to Baroda, he dropped in at the hotel to meet me. I had to visit the Indian team hotel later that evening and he insisted on giving me a lift on his scooter through crusty terrain.
We met last at the 2011 BCCI awards function where MS Dhoni’s World Cup-winning team was felicitated. No meeting with Lele was over without his brand of cricket masala. This time, he told me how one of the national selectors complained to him that selection meetings were dominated by one particular selector and that there was no scope for a lengthy discussion. Lele put the problem down to selectors being paid well, so well that the money forces them to stay quiet and encourage unholy compromises. That was Lele… he always put a different spin on things.
Cricket talk apart, visitors will now not hear, “welcome to Baroda!” as they make their way to Sanmitra in Anandpura. Jaywant will be on his jhoola somewhere else.