Sourav Ganguly was one of the most astute captains ever and his move to take over the world’s richest cricket body could be just another step to becoming one of India’s future leaders.
The 47-year-old took over Wednesday as head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, vowing to end a decade of scandal at the $2 billion-a-year organisation.
But many observers see Ganguly’s accession as a step closer to a key role in national politics – a cricket god is a guaranteed vote-catcher for any party that manages to snare one.
Some reports say the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wants Ganguly to be its candidate for chief minister in his native West Bengal state in an election in two years.
He met BJP president and Home Minister Amit Shah just before he emerged from backroom meetings as the only candidate to take the BCCI into its new era after more than two years being run by a Supreme Court appointed committee. Shah’s son is to be BCCI secretary in the changes.
Ganguly, who was born into a wealthy West Bengal family, was previously close to a fierce rival of the BJP – the regional party that currently runs the state. The talks with Shah unleashed feverish speculation.
“He seems to be very comfortable in working with a cabal that seems to have clear BJP political affiliation,” Sanjay Jha, a spokesman for the opposition Congress party told NDTV television.
Nistula Hebbar, political editor with The Hindu newspaper, told AFP that Ganguly would be a top prize for the BJP.
“He is popular, iconic for Bengalis, a genuine achiever and has been above politics.” Hebbar said meeting Shah could be “just an opening gambit for greater involvement”.
Ganguly was one of India’s most successful captains, forging the team spirit that made the country a power in international cricket.
The “God of the Offside” retired from Tests in 2008 with 7,212 runs including 16 centuries – one hit on his Test debut at Lords.
He began his innings as a cricket administrator after taking over as West Bengal state chief in 2015 following the death of Jagmohan Dalmiya.
Dalmiya was one of the most clever cricket politicians, having guided South Africa back into international cricket in 1991 after the end of apartheid.
Batting icon Sachin Tendulkar has no doubt that Ganguly will succeed at the BCCI.
“The way he played his cricket, the way he has gone out and served the nation, I have no doubt that he will serve in same capacity and in the same manner,” Tendulkar said of his former teammate.
Paceman Irfan Pathan, who made his India debut under Ganguly, also has high expectations from Dada (big brother), as he is known.
“It was a wonderful era when he was captain. He changed the mindset of the team, instilled belief and aggression,” Pathan told AFP.
“A lot of people knew Ganguly as an attacking captain. But he also has great man-management skills and valued everyone – a quality that will serve him well in BCCI.”
He is not the first Test star to become BCCI leader: Maharajkumar of Vizianagram (known as Vizzy), Shivlal Yadav and Sunil Gavaskar all held the post.
But the BCCI, placed under court administration in 2017 after a string of scandals, has changed. The Indian Premier League has brought enormous new wealth and pressures in the cricket-mad country.
Riven by factions and competing business interests, Ganguly can see there is more of the mess to be cleaned up.
“It’s actually an emergency as I have said before and I’m happy to get the responsibility to turn it around,” Ganguly said after filing his nomination last week.