Strange days indeed for Indian cricket

Sunday Times – published before Jagmohan Dalmiya’s death

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

JAGMOHAN Dalmiya is to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) what Don Corleone was to the fictional family made famous by Francis Ford Coppola in his 1972 epic, The Godfather. Not quite.

The appointment of Virat Kohli as India’s test captain, meanwhile, has taken the edge off the nation’s mourning for the career of Sachin Tendulkar, who retired in November 2013 as the most worshipped of a host of worshipped players. Again, not quite.

In fact, there is enough uncertainty at the core of Indian cricket to make South Africans think the game in their own country is in a better place ahead their teams’ long and winding series on the sub-continent this season.

And that’s despite the SA public’s distrust of their suits over the World Cup selection debacle in March and unhappiness with a team who couldn’t fight their way out of the wet paper bag that was their one-day series in Bangladesh in July.

That Dalmiya is BCCI president has been true since March. But only on the organisation’s letterhead. The truth is that, at 75, failing health prevents him from taking any meaningful control of cricket’s most powerful body.

His son, Abhishek Dalmiya, accompanies him to meetings and does most of the talking. Most of what needs to get done daily in the BCCI’s offices is taken care of by its secretary, Anurag Thakur.

In June, the panel of Supreme Court judges who are investigating allegations of corruption in the Indian Premier League decided after meeting Dalmiya that he was not in the physical and mental shape required to lead the board.

All that came home to roost on Thursday when Dalmiya was admitted to hospital in Calcutta after suffering a heart attack. No less an Indian cricket personage than Sourav Ganguly hurried to his bedside.

And to think not many months ago the BCCI and in fact world cricket were the playthings of a man loathed wherever the game is played – particularly in India – for resorting to levels of bumptiousness and bullying to get his way that would make even Donald Trump’s hair stand on end.

Narayanaswami Srinivasan is that man. Or rather, he was. The Supreme Court’s investigation put paid to his BCCI presidency and, not before time, rendered him mortal.

Tendulkar, meanwhile, continues to beam down beatifically from countless billboards on the India that will always love him.

He has hit the headlines again in recent days in what some have sought to blow up as a spat with Kohli over, of all things, tennis.

Tendulkar’s response to Kohli buying a stake in the UAE Royals, a franchise in the new International Premier Tennis League was to tweet, “Hey @imVkohli, I want to play!”

Kohli’s reply? “Not sure you have what it takes @sachin_rt paaji!”

In Punjabi, “paaji” is a respectful term for an elder brother. In other Indian languages, including Hindi, the word can be taken as an insult – akin in intensity, though not in anatomy, to what Kevin Pietersen called Andrew Strauss in a text sent to members of the SA team on tour in England in 2012.

Nevermind that. Who the hell did Kohli think he was to question Tendulkar’s ability to do anything he wanted to a supreme degree?

Either way, Tendulkar was not swayed: “Of course I have what it takes @ImVkohli! What’s the catch?”

In the real world, this exchange would have been accepted as a bit of banter – boring banter, actually – between friends. In the unreal world of Indian cricket, it was news to be written up and broadcast prominently.

As if Tendulkar’s still swirling ghost isn’t complication enough for Kohli in his bid to win over the Indian public as the new dressingroom deity, he also has to put up with MS Dhoni’s presence and indeed captaincy of the one-day side.

There is unfairness in having to compete for hearts and minds with a player who hit a six to win a World Cup, as Dhoni did in 2011.

Kohli will know this, but he daren’t say so. Best he keeps those bright eyes bright and focused on these even stranger days, indeed, in Indian cricket.

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