Kolkata: It was as a five-year-old that Avishek Dalmiya made his Eden Gardens debut, during the Australia-England 1987 World Cup final. By the time Allan Border lifted the trophy, however, he got lost in the elite lower tier of the Dr B.C. Roy Club House.
There was panic until Avishek was located by a family faithful and official of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB).
Today, a shade over 32 years later, Avishek is president of the CAB, which is headquartered at the Eden Gardens. At 38, the late Jagmohan Dalmiya’s son is the youngest to occupy the chair that matters there.
The senior Dalmiya was a game-changer and remains among the most celebrated of cricket administrators globally. He not just helmed the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), more than once, but was the International Cricket Council chief as well.
A mighty powerful one too.
Until his father’s demise at a Kolkata medical facility in September 2015, Avishek was only assisting him with “documents/files” as the senior Dalmiya was then again heading the BCCI.
The senior Dalmiya’s passing away fast-tracked Avishek’s emergence as a full-fledged cricket administrator.
In wanting a smooth transition at the CAB, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee decided that former India captain Sourav Ganguly would be elevated as the CAB president (he was a joint-secretary at the time of the senior Dalmiya’s demise) and that Avishek would take the position vacated by Ganguly.
Avishek’s elder sister Baishali is an MLA from Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. So, there are ties between the two families.
Last October, in order to helm the BCCI, Ganguly resigned as the CAB chief. That paved the way for Avishek to move up. Joint-secretary, secretary and, then, president.
From vineyard to cricket
“Life has twists and turns. You just have to face them. Circumstances led to my becoming a cricket administrator. Naturally, the Dalmiya factor will be talked about by some, but I have come to unanimously hold three positions. Nobody contested each time I was a candidate,” Avishek, an MBA, told ThePrint.
“Of course, it is a matter of pride that I am Jagmohan Dalmiya’s son. To grow up in a cricket environment has been a privilege. My late father was the embodiment of a passionate administrator and I hope some of that has rubbed off on me.”
It is interesting that Avishek was actually contemplating venturing into the vineyard business either in “Scotland or southern France” when destiny took a sad turn.
“Initially, my late father was opposed to the idea of his only son engaging in business overseas, but had more or less agreed provided (a) I go abroad after the end of his latest tenure as the BCCI head and (b) I divide my time between Kolkata and Scotland/southern France,” he said.
“But, then, our lives changed with the passing away of my father. I had to devote more time to the family business (M.L. Dalmiya & Co. Ltd) and I came into cricket administration. You just don’t know what destiny has in store.”
Avishek cannot afford to ignore the family business as he holds a strictly honorary post and the daily bread-and-butter needs to be taken care of. He is the chairman of the Eastern region’s Export Promotion Council for SEZs & Export-Oriented Units.
It was on an astrologer’s advice that Avishek, ironically a teetotaler, began contemplating getting into vineyards.
“I do have a fair degree of faith in astrologers,” Avishek observed, pointing out to the stones on each of the four rings he wears. One, in fact, was worn by his late father until his last breath.
Working for Jagmohan Dalmiya
Avishek was in the mid-20s when he began functioning as a cricket-specific “PA” to the senior Dalmiya. It marked the start of his grooming.
“My late father’s Man Friday Kunal Ghosh left for the US around 2007 and I had to start doing the backroom work where cricket files/documents were concerned,” said Avishek.
“It was also the time when my late father had to go through a lot in the BCCI [thanks to Sharad Pawar and his group]. To ensure I knew the background of almost every issue, I was instructed to go through the minutes of all AGMs, SGMs and working committee meetings during the past 25 years.
“As a task, it was arduous, but I had no choice as my late father brooked no nonsense. I did not want to be caught napping in case he asked for details of a specific meeting. It was tough baptism,” Avishek recalled.
Did the senior Dalmiya break down on being hounded and expelled by his opponents in the BCCI? “No. Rather, my late father was defiant and swore that nothing would go unchallenged. Eventually, he stood vindicated and even returned as the president.”
Quizzed on who qualifies to be an ideal cricket administrator, Avishek answered: “Somebody who gets the communication and coordination right. You cannot achieve anything all on your own and have to rely on a team or a core group of colleagues. It is about trust and faith. Vision comes in as well.”
Ganguly and Azhar
There are whispers that Avishek may not be his own man, but be heavily influenced by predecessor Ganguly. To that, there is a counter.
“I see no harm in taking suggestions and I am lucky that the BCCI chief and I sit in adjoining rooms with a connecting door. I have the liberty to go across to his room and, if required, seek advice,” Avishek said.
According to the BCCI’s constitution, on completing six years as an administrator, Avishek will have to go into a three-year cooling-off period after the first week of November 2021. His tenure as the CAB president, therefore, is limited.
“That is how things are at this point in time… My tenure is short and there is plenty to push for, including renewal of the Eden Gardens lease (land belongs to the Ministry of Defence). It is time too for more players from Bengal to wear the India colours, so that is also an area of focus,” Avishek pointed out.
Whether he is his own man or not as a cricket administrator, Avishek boldly asserted that Mohammed Azharuddin, a controversial former captain of India, is the one cricketer he adored during his younger days.
“I should not have, but I once left a geography exam midway in school (La Martiniere), in order to watch Azhar bat at Eden Gardens. That is how crazy I was about his artistry,” Avishek stated, smiling.
Avishek will need to be somewhat bold as president of the CAB as well.
Lokendra Pratap Sahi is a veteran sports journalist who has covered cricket across the globe for nearly four decades.