The man who followed the book
The irony of Shirke’s removal from BCCI is that he was one man who wanted to set things right
Taking on the big guns, and beating them with clear and in-depth planning; that was always the hallmark of the way Ajay Shirke worked in cricket administration.
Right from his entry into the cricket scene through the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA), Mr Shirke always looked like a man with clear foresight and a man who was here to stay. Just sample this: He enters the MCA managing committee as a co-opted member, someone who has been brought in the committee without going through the usual election process. He works in the committee, studies all the details of association functions, finds loopholes, and takes the president head on in no time.
Cut to the 2005 MCA elections, the first genuine elections of the association at a time when Mr Dnyaneshwar Agashe being the president of the association was considered a foregone conclusion.
This writer still remembers that election, where the picture looked clear to many as another Agashe group whitewash. Mr Shirke, however, held his own, building rapport with district associations outside Pune, who had always "felt ignored".
Mr Agashe and his colleagues kept saying that this election is a no contest. And it turned out to be quite a no contest, but not quite the way Mr Agashe and his colleagues were expecting. For Mr Shirke, winning the election was just the beginning. He meant business, and the next priority was to correct things that were wrong with the association. Right from changing the constitution, described by the joint charity commissioner as outdated some months earlier, to signing the Mumbai big guns Sairaj Bahutule and Nilesh Kulkarni as professionals, Mr Shirke kept the MCA members and scribes busy.
Maharashtra Cricket Association suddenly became happening, and people kept looking forward to who will play for Maharashtra next. There were no more guaranteed places for anyone, because if a pacer thought he had no competition in the state, there was competition for his place from all over the country. The selectors began to go after the stalwarts, telling them to perform or perish. Coaches like Darren Holder (Australia), Dermot Reeve (England) Shaun Williams (Australia) tried to bring in a new culture to Maharashtra cricket.
Of course, all was not as rosy. There was a massive communication gap between the foreign coaches and the players on a regular basis. Worse, there was a communication gap between the coaches and the selectors at times. Mr Shirke, as powerful as he was, could have perhaps stepped in at such moments. Same could have been done when Chandrakant Pandit, as the coach in 2007-08 season, who was stunned to see eight changes to the squad for the team's final Ranji game, including a couple of 15-year-olds being brought in, and resigned at the end of the game.
It's one thing that the selectors go after the senior players and ask them to perform or perish. But it's quite another when they go after someone of the class of Hrishikesh Kanitkar, and drop him after scoring back to back fifties. Worse, chairman of selectors goes on record saying "he has played a lot, now let some other guy take his place." Once again, Mr Shirke either agreed with the selectors, or decided to let them do their own business. The toughest thing about working with him was, some say, that you were either with him or against him. So, sometimes people were scared to tell him that things were going wrong.
However, no one can deny that it was because of his vision that Maharashtra, once dominated by cricketers from Pune, saw a lot of talented players from other districts represent the State in various age groups. It was purely his vision, because of which MCA owns its own state of the art stadium that will soon host Pune's first ever Test match.
Without a doubt, Mr Shirke's biggest strength has been his preparation and knowledge of law and constitution. Whether while working as an MCA president or the BCCI treasurer, he always made sure that he collected enough knowledge of the issues before acting on them. It's quite ironic then, that his innings as a cricket administrator has been brought to an end by the highest judicial body of the country.
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