The estate that Dalmiya didn't exactly love

After exalting Lalit Modi to biblical status by calling him ‘Moses’, Ravi Shastri has given us another quote to remember by saying Jagmohan Dalmiya was the “Muhammad Ali of the BCCI”.

Dalmiya was a terrific administrator, a players’ administrator we are made to believe — especially in the last few days — by the practitioners of the sport. But there is the other side. Though Dalmiya made millions of Indians happy as he tackled the choppy seas of international cricket administration with aplomb, there was a stage when one felt that the Indian cricket setup (players included) could get away with anything because of Dalmiya.

Many a time, Dalmiya was a ‘no comments’ man. He gave the impression that he detested the media and didn’t do much to foster a good relationship between cricketers and the fourth estate. Pic/AFP
Many a time, Dalmiya was a ‘no comments’ man. He gave the impression that he detested the media and didn’t do much to foster a good relationship between cricketers and the fourth estate. Pic/AFP

India ending up on the ‘winning’ side in the Mike Denness and other controversies may have satisfied the inner group of this country’s cricket administration. It may have caused a great feeling, but how great is it when the ‘opposition’ feel they lost because of India’s financial clout?

I cannot claim to have known Dalmiya but I’ve always, and several other media persons I presume, took exception to how he treated — directly or indirectly — members of the fourth estate. He gave the impression that he detested the media and didn’t do much to foster a good relationship between cricketers and the fourth estate. Sure, the media can be a pest at times and there is a way to handle that, but there is no running away from the fact that it is one of the game’s important stakeholders.

As a key Indian cricket administrator, Dalmiya only felt the need of a communications officer in 2001-02 after the Indian team returned from the tour of South Africa which was marred by the Denness controversy.

Journalists who arrived to cover the Indian team’s nets prior to the first India vs England Test at Mohali in December 2001 were surprised to hear that Amrit Mathur was appointed BCCI’s Media Co-ordinator. Mathur accompanied the Indian team to the 2003 World Cup and the historic 2004 tour to Pakistan, but Dalmiya didn’t appear to like the idea of having media managers on every tour. And granting the media basic facilities was ignored as well. For example, journalists covering matches at the Eden Gardens still have to walk up four floors to get into the press box. No elevator to the top for them! Wonder what happens to the handicapped.

There are other venues in international cricket whose media centres are at a height, without an elevator, but if the Eden is hailed as an iconic venue, it cannot fall short on the basics. What a shame it was not allotted an India game in the 2011 World Cup.

I remember during the 2001 India vs Australia Test, made famous by VVS Laxman’s 281 and India’s miraculous turnaround, the press conference room could accommodate only a limited number of journalists. The Aussie writers were bewildered, and with good reason. Dalmiya was not BCCI president during that match, but he was surely calling the shots at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). A retired journalist was at the entrance of the press conference room handing out small chits of paper as ‘passes’ to get a seat. This was on the day Harbhajan Singh became India’s first hat-trick man in Test cricket. I couldn’t help telling this Dalmiya man that he should be ashamed to indulge in such voluntary work. Some Kolkata journalists are upset over the fact that they are not allowed to attend the CAB’s Annual General Body Meeting. So much for transparency!

Many a time, Dalmiya was a ‘no comments’ man. “I have no comments to make,” he said to a journalist at Dhaka Sheraton a few hours after the story about Hansie Cronje’s involvement with bookies broke on the evening of April 7, 2000. As ICC chief, he was in Bangladesh for an Asia XI vs Rest of the World match. His first official word on the controversy came the following day at a media conference. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said in response to a question on the controversy. “I cannot say anything based on hearsay. But if there is anything to it, ICC has the machinery to deal with it. There is nothing to worry about.” Nothing to worry about — the biggest understatement in modern cricket it could well be.

In Durban, where India beat Kenya in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, Dalmiya left an Indian reporter wondering whether, as BCCI chief, he didn’t want to sing praises of his team too early or was he just not interested in reacting to the Indian team’s fine performance. “Let us not discuss all these things. I have no time,” the reporter was told bluntly.

Just because Dalmiya was indifferent to the media it does not mean he didn’t have a heart. A Kolkata-based journalist remembers him being very helpful during her early years and calling often to enquire about her father’s health. He hadn’t forgotten the ill person’s contribution to cricket administration. Another sports writer was promised a long, albeit off-the-record chat over a meal when Dalmiya would visit Delhi next. Alas, it didn’t take place.

Dalmiya died with his boots on, while in office of cricket’s most powerful body. Though his presidential days were numbered, his will be big boots to fill.

By the way, Shastri is right about Dalmiya being the heavyweight champion among cricket administrators.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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