By all accounts, the new president of the Indian cricket board, Anurag Thakur is as passionate about cricket as he is in rising to speak on behalf of his Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha as a third-time MP.
Like all good politicians, he is highly ambitious. In cricket administration, Thakur, 41, has served his apprenticeship climbing up the rungs without losing sight of the summit. He did not take long to move into the inner circle of the board’s think-tank with the powerful Arun Jaitley as his mentor.
The board is one place where political affiliations get blurred. Another claimant to be president, Rajeev Shukla, is also pretty close to Jaitley, despite being a Congress MP. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre could not have come to power at a more opportune time for Thakur.
Thakur benefited as BJP would not have liked an MP from the main Opposition Party to head the board when it is striving for a Congress-mukt Bharat.
It is not clear whether the dynamic Thakur played cricket to become an administrator or became an official to play first-class cricket, like one of his predecessors in the board, P.R. Man Singh did some five decades ago, playing Ranji Trophy as joint secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association.
Thakur did one better than Man Singh, he played a Ranji Trophy match as president of the state association, telling his shocked team-mates that he was not only playing but leading the side against Jammu and Kashmir. That’s one black spot he will have to endure.
The similarities between him and Man Singh end there. Despite his excellent credentials for bigger roles in the board, Man Singh, a qualified engineer and a businessman, is only remembered as the manager of the Kapil Dev’s 1983 World Cup winning team.
Thakur went on to fulfill his desire to become a national junior selector, though the board soon fixed the norm of playing a minimum of 25 first-class matches to be eligible for the job.
Thakur’s political opponents in Himachal Pradesh have prepared a huge dossier on his alleged skirting of rules and regulations in raising a beautiful cricket stadium at Dharamsala and also a couple of other first-rate stadiums in the hill state.
They also allege that he has framed the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) constitution in such a manner that he can perpetuate his rule by recruiting private members outnumbering the elected voters from district associations.
For all his autocratic style of functioning, even his critics agree that he has done a lot for Himachal Pradesh cricket and its players, making sure that the state team can no longer be trifled with in domestic cricket. Players are happy with him and that’s saying something in the Indian cricket industry.
After Narendra Modi moved into Delhi’s South Block, the seat of Prime Minister’s Office, Thakur’s stature in the board has gone up even more, acquiring the sobriquet Chota Modi. The son of the two-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal was quick to realise that his time has come in cricket, though many see him as the Akhilesh Yadav of Himachal Pradesh, following in the footsteps of his father in the state politics.
Thakur was keen on throwing his hat into the board’s presidential ring last year itself, but his advisers, both in the board and the party, counseled him to pull the reins and allow Jagmohan Dalmiya to return as president for a second innings in the wake of the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing case that resulted in Narayanswamy Srinivasan losing his position as both the board president as well as his newly-acquired chairmanship of the International Cricket Council.
Thakur the politician played his cards smartly to stay relevant. He had no qualms in joining Sharad Pawar’s group to become the board secretary, albeit winning by one vote, when Srinivasan’s group was willing to make him its presidential candidate.
A straight talker, Thakur is firm in his belief yet flexible. He spoke up when the IPL corruption issue cropped up, though as joint secretary he did not follow secretary Sanjay Jagdale and treasurer Ajay Shirke, who quit in a move to embarrass Srinivasan.
Now Shirkey is the secretary and the Pune industrialist shuttles between his hometown and London, where his family has worldwide business interests in construction and electronics.
Thakur made the right noises after taking over as president, though he is not exactly happy, like many others in the board, about the Lodha Committee recommendations.
Among the initial steps the new regime proposes is to ask the all the Test venues to earmark 10 percent of the stadium capacity for free entry of schoolchildren, to adopt energy and water conservation using solar panels and LEDs, water harvesting, and sewerage water treatment.
All these steps will ward-off problems leading to the shifting of the IPL matches from Mumbai and Pune because of drought and water scarcity in rural Maharashtra. Also not to be forgotten is the creation of a Rs.5 crore corpus for physically handicapped cricketers.
Will he able to deal with the Lodha Committee recommendations and the Supreme Court decision like a cricket administrator or legislatively like a politician?
That’s going to test the political acumen of the new cricket chief!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])