Former BCCI President, Raj Singh Dungarpur passed away over the weekend, aged 73, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Unlike many in the current administration, Raj Singh Dungarpur was a player himself. Therefore, it isn’t a great surprise that, as an administrator, he was more interested in talent nurturing than in money spinning! He was a players’ administrator. Having played 16 seasons for Rajasthan — he was a modestly successful pace bowler who used his 6ft 3in height to his advantage — he could see that “talent” was the cornerstone to successful impact on the world stage.
But it wasn’t as a player that he carved his fame and contribution to cricket in India. He was really better known as a commentator (initially), Chairman of the National Selection Committee and Team Manager on several tours — including a tour to Pakistan 2006, when he was reported to have called Sourav Ganguly the “laziest and possibly the worst fielder” in the team! He was also BCCI President for three years from 1996 and then, President of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) in Mumbai. Towards the end, he lost his grip on the CCI too after he was accused of embezzlement and was, subsequently, banned from the CCI too. But his contributions to Indian cricket remain huge.
His three major impact-creating legacies were (a) the selection of Sachin Tendulkar as player (b) selection of Mohammed Azharuddin as captain of Team India, (c) establishment of the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore.
I had the fortune of travelling with him in January 2000 from Mumbai to Singapore. He was on his way to New Zealand to attend an ICC meeting. We checked in together at Mumbai airport. Having recognised him at the check-in counter queue, I said hello and we chatted about cricket for a while on our way through to Boarding. He was travelling Business Class (of course) and I was bringing up the rear of the plane. So we parted company on boarding! But to my surprise, on take-off, he was kind enough to come back looking for me. He even requested the steward if we could both keep company in the calm comfort of the sparsely occupied forward section of that Air India flight! We talked cricket non-stop.
He came across as a man with an immense and child-like passion for the game.
I asked him what his greatest achievements were as administrator. It was as if he knew I’d ask that question. Without hesitation, his response was “Sachin as player and Azhar as captain”.
Sachin Tendulkar’s selection was risky and fraught. This had “young lamb thrown into the lions’ den” writ all over it. A precociously talented young lad was selected to face the fire of Waqar Younis and the guile of Abdul Qadir. Failure could dent the confidence of the young man and would result in egg on the face of the Chairman of the Selection Committee. But Raj Singh maintained that leadership is about seizing the moment and making some tough decisions. He wasn’t ever scared of making decisions. The decision was made… The rest, as they say, is history!
Mohammed Azharuddin’s elevation to captaincy in 1989 was a similarly brave call. At the time, Team India was faced with a possible and brewing player revolt, with senior players like Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar at the forefront of the revolt. A tough decision was required. Dungarpur is reported to have asked a stunned young Azharuddin (“Mian, captain banoge? [Friend, will you be captain?]“]. The young lad was suitably stunned. But Azharuddin was an integral part of Dungarpur’s vision for a young Team India, bristling with confidence and self-belief.
Tendulkar and Azharuddin were more a part of Dungarpur’s vision than some of the older players. He acted on that vision with self-belief, conviction and energy. That vision held good for almost the entire decade (1990 to 2000) of Azharuddin’s reign as captain, when players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble (Dungarpur’s selection too, after Kumble had played just a few Wills Trophy games) were inducted into Team India till the match-fixing scam shook Indian cricket.
I asked him what his major regret was and he said that he was President of BCCI a few terms too early! I remember asking him if he would re-run for President as he still had much to offer. His immediate answer was “No. One must always move on the bigger and better things in life. You can’t move back to things you have already done. One must always move on…”
How appropriate. We must move on… But not before recognising a player and administrator, but most importantly a passionate man.