SOURAV GANGULY’S FIRST press conference as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president wasn’t just the laying out of a new chief’s vision. It was a reminder, touching very often upon nostalgia, that this was the vision of Ganguly, the celebrated former captain. He appeared wearing a new pair of black-rimmed glasses and a blazer with the BCCI emblem that turned out to be the one he wore as India’s captain. Sitting with his back straight, his responses to questions were allusions to his playing days as captain.
This was no doubt not without design. The board is taking over after the reign of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA). And Ganguly, like he once did with his captaincy, is required to instil trust.
It is tempting to draw parallels between the two instances Indian cricket turned to Ganguly. Even he did so at the conference. “[When] I became captain, it was a similar sort of a situation and I captained India for six years,” he said. “And this is a similar sort of situation that now things need to be brought back in place, reforms need to be done…”
Ganguly was appointed captain after the 2000 match-fixing scandal and now he perhaps has an even more challenging brief. He has to navigate not just the directives put forth by the Justice Lodha reforms but also to do so in such a way that he revives the credibility of the board and restores people’s faith in it. There are also some immediate and delicate questions, such as that of MS Dhoni’s future or whether the team management—that is, Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri—have become too powerful. It requires both tact and firmness.
Ganguly may have been elected unopposed but he wasn’t the first choice. According to reports, the former board president, N Srinivasan, wanted the position for Brijesh Patel, the former India cricketer and administrator who is known to be close to him. Anurag Thakur, the BJP leader and former board chief, wanted Jay Shah, the son of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Ganguly emerged as a consensus candidate. He was agreeable to both power centres. And his appointment—a high-profile name respected across the cricketing establishment and public—also works in terms of optics.
It is interesting to look at the journey of the so-called Fab Four after their retirement. Rahul Dravid, who always gave the impression of someone who revelled in the nitty-gritty of the game, moved into coaching. VVS Laxman, like most former cricketers, became a commentator. Sachin Tendulkar, the most gifted—and also the biggest brand among them—stayed somewhat aloof, existing more as a continuing brand than a former cricketer. Ganguly, arguably the least gifted batsman among them who always punched above his weight, was visibly the most ambitious among the four. He was going to use his career as a cricketer to propel himself into bigger roles, moving first into cricket administration by joining the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB).
Ganguly also has the quality to attract influential people. Back in 2015, after the death of the CAB’s head Jagmohan Dalmiya, when the bets were on the CAB’s then treasurer, Biswarup Dey, getting picked for the top job, much to everyone’s surprise, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced Ganguly as the CAB president. This current appointment has also happened after a backroom meeting with Amit Shah, leading some to wonder if Ganguly might be roped in by the BJP for its plans to win the elections in Bengal two years later.
So how will Ganguly fare as the new board chief? He has about 10 months left in the job. He will finish six years as an office-bearer with the BCCI or one of its state associations, after which, according to the new rules, he will need to serve a mandatory three-year cooling-off period. Will he serve just as a facade while behind the scenes business goes on as usual? Or will he, like he once did with Indian cricket, usher in a new dawn?