Sourav Ganguly: Can former India captain score big as cricket chief?

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Ganguly has a huge fan following in cricket crazy India

Sourav Ganguly, one of India’s most successful cricket captains, takes over as president of the country’s cricket board on Wednesday, kicking off a new chapter in its history, writes the BBC’s Vikas Pandey in Delhi.

Cricket is a religion in India and cricketers are often treated as gods.

And then there are those who control the gods: officials of the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

It’s one of the richest sports bodies in the world and wields commanding influence in international cricketing matters – which explains why the BCCI has been run by politicians and powerful businessmen for most parts of its existence.

Being in the BCCI means controlling a game that is passionately followed by millions of Indians. It also guarantees a constant media spotlight and a controlling stake in India’s sporting future, which is very much dominated by cricket.

Ganguly’s election follows a significant intervention by the Supreme Court into cricket administration in 2017.

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Ganguly was elected unopposed as president of the cricket board earlier this month

It ordered all politicians, including the current junior finance minister Anurag Thakur, to step down and appointed a committee of administrators to run and reform the BCCI.

The decision came after allegations of corruption and spot-fixing in the BCCI-run Indian Premier League T20 tournament.

New innings

Ganguly’s election is turning a new leaf in Indian cricket. And fans have high hopes from him because of his success as a player and captain.

The former captain is largely credited with heralding a new era in Indian cricket and he is no stranger to challenges.

He took over the captaincy at the turn of the century under trying circumstances. People’s faith in cricket was at an all-time low after several senior players were expelled from the team over match-fixing allegations.

There were protests across the country and many Indians no longer wanted to watch cricket. His team was also fairly inexperienced.

But Ganguly turned this weakness into his strength.

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Media captionSourav Ganguly on captaining India during match-fixing scandal

He nurtured and believed in young players, he told them to reply to sledging with more sledging, and not back down against pressure tactics from their opponents.

In a significant departure from the usual image of the mild-mannered Indian cricketer, he gave freedom to teammates to be aggressive on the field.

The strategy paid off and India started winning both at home and abroad.

And the fact that he always led from the front helped him earn the respect of his teammates. The “fab five” – which included him, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid – dominated Indian batting for almost a decade.

Then came the low point: he had a very public fallout with coach Greg Chappell, the man he had brought from Australia to help him run the team. Ganguly was first stripped off his captaincy and later dropped from the team.

But – remarkably – he bounced back, playing in domestic tournaments and scoring heavily, forcing the selectors to pick him again for the national side. He eventually retired in 2008.

Immediate challenges

Ganguly’s election has been praised by most former players, fans and officials.

They believe that a legendary cricketer running the board is good news for the game. And it certainly is.

But can he recreate the same magic as a cricket administrator?

He is not known to mince words and that was evident when reporters recently asked him to assess the current team’s performance.

While praising their winning streak in bilateral series, he pointed out that the team, led by captain Virat Kohli, had failed to win big tournaments.

“I think it’s [India’s performance abroad] satisfactory and we have a very good side. My only thing is that we need to win big tournaments. I’m not saying they will win every time. It’s not possible. But they have gone through seven big tournaments without winning one; they are a much better side than that,” he said.

Kohli or coach Ravi Shastri haven’t responded to the statement.

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So far, Kohli and Shastri have run the team with complete authority and reports say they dominate the team selection committee’s meetings and have a final say on who gets picked. When former coach Anil Kumble stepped down, there was speculation that it was because Kohli didn’t agree with his decisions. Shastri and Ganguly too have publicly disagreed on many issues in the past.

It will be interesting to see how the captain and the coach work with the new president.

Ganguly is also likely to face interference from politicians.

Behind the euphoria of his election lies another story – the backdoor re-entry of politicians in the BCCI.

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Ganguly’s election has been praised by most former players, fans and officials

Reports suggest that Home Minister and BJP chief Amit Shah orchestrated his appointment – the two met before Ganguly filed his nomination – although both have denied the meeting had anything to do with his candidature.

Besides Ganguly, the board is expected to be made up of Jay Shah, the home minister’s son who is set to be elected as the new secretary, and Arun Dhumal, brother of Mr Thakur who is expected to be the new treasurer.

Ganguly’s immediate challenge will be to make people believe that cricket in India will continue to be run without political interference.

And he doesn’t have much time as his tenure is only for 10 months. The new BCCI rule bars anyone from serving in the board or its state units for more than six years on the trot. Ganguly has already done more than five years in the Cricket Association of Bengal.

So can he deliver? We will have to just watch the next 10 months. The past tells us it’s a good idea to be ready for surprises when Ganguly is at the helm.