South Africa, Bangladesh Mourn Death of Jagmohan Dalmiya, a Friend For Forever

Updated: 21 September 2015 13:25 IST

Jagmohan Dalmiya, as secretary of the BCCI, was instrumental in welcoming South Africa back from international wilderness in 1991. Thanks to Dalmiya, Bangladesh played India when they were given Test status in 2000.

South Africa, Bangladesh Mourn Death of Jagmohan Dalmiya, a Friend For Forever
Jagmohan Dalmiya will be remembered by South Africa and Bangladesh as friend, philosopher and guide. © Reuters

New Delhi:

Two nations who will remember Jagmohan Dalmiya as a friend, philosopher and guide, are grieving over the death of the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. In 1991, the Dalmiya-led BCCI had welcomed South Africa back from oblivion and many saw the late ICC president's hand in according Test status to Bangladesh in June, 2000. (Dalmiya's death leaves BCCI in search of a new president)

As a mark of respect to Dalmiya, Bangladesh cricketers and officials will observe a minute's silence and wear black arm bands on Monday before the start of the fourth day's play in matches of the 17th National Cricket League (NCL) at Fatullah, Bogra, Khulna and Rajshahi. A Bangladesh Cricket Board delegation is expected to represent the president in Dalmiya's funeral in Kolkata. (The Man Who Broke White Domination in Cricket)

South Africa have paid their tribute to Dalmiya, whose commanding position as a top BCCI official, took the world by storm since late Eighties. A man who knew where and how to build bridges and knock out the enemy by crafty yet sublime methods, won South African hearts by welcoming the nation back to international cricket after two decades in the wilderness. (Tributes Pour in)

India and South Africa became friends for life when Clive Rice led South Africa to India in 1991. Dalmiya was the man who proposed South Africa's re-entry as a Full Member of the ICC and he played a major role right to the end to ensure that the relationship with the BCCI will remain strong and steadfast. (Dalmiya Dies in Kolkata)

Like most non-white nations, India were opposed to South Africa's brutal apartheid regime. In 1974, India refused to play a Davis Cup tie versus South Africa. The relationship between the two nations were at an all-time low when thousands of Indian immigrants in South Africa were denied their rights till as late as 1960.

Thanks to BCCI, cricket was a great leveller. Former captain Ali Bacher played a key role in South Africa's return to ICC fold. Reports say there were at least 40 calls in July between Dalmiya, then BCCI secretary, and Bacher, who had the blessings of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

Playing cricket with South Africa was not going to be easy. It had to be a political decision. In July 1991, after much discussions and thanks to the intervention of Indian High Commissioner in London, LM Singhvi, BCCI president Madhavrao Scindia, a Congress heavyweight, finally got the government's nod to play South Africa.

India played a key role in the ICC to salvage South Africa's entry into ICC. History says the ICC president Clyde Walcott, a former West Indian batting legend, was not even in favour of discussing South Africa's re-entry, but India (read Dalmiya) turned the tables in favour of the beleaguered nation.

According to cricket historian Boria Majumdar, there was a sense of urgency to promote the new South Africa through cricket and not any other sport. Had it not been for the ICC meeting in July, South Africa would probably have made their official re-entry into international sport through the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, missing the cricket World Cup in 1992, says a report in ESPNCricinfo.

In November 1991, India and South Africa agreed to a three-match ODI series. The matches would be played in Kolkata (at Dalmiya's fort Eden Gardens), Gwalior (Scindia's bastion) and New Delhi. Against all logistical odds, Rice led a pre-dominantly white team to India. On November 7, the South Africans smoked and drank all the way to Kolkata.

Thousands welcomed the South Africans in Kolkata. Interestingly, the players mistook the fans as protestors. They were the toast of the city and their biggest moment came when Rice and Co. met Mother Teresa the following day.

On November 10, the South Africans finally broke their international wilderness in front of 100,000 fans at Eden. India won a low-scoring game by three wickets. But it was not the result but the occasion that overtook everybody. For the record, India won in Gwalior to seal the series but lost in Delhi.

Rice summed up the occasion just perfectly. "I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon," he had said. Although BCCI and Cricket South Africa have had their share of run-ins in recent times, the Boards remain committed to each other and Dalmiya will always be fondly remembered.

CSA chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, commented: "Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya will never be forgotten in South African cricket circles for being instrumental in welcoming us back into the international cricket fold and for extending in 1991 that historic invitation to the United Cricket Board to make possible the Proteas first ever tour abroad to India.

"I always felt good around Mr Dalmiya and I will never forget his warm words during my own difficult times. He was a special person and South Africans have much to be grateful to him for the strong relationship he cultivated between the two countries. The upcoming Freedom Trophy should be a special tribute to him."

Deep within, Bangladesh will always owe their new-found status as the world's 10th Test-playing nation to Dalmiya. Football was always Bangladesh's No. 1 sport but after the country won the ICC Trophy in 1997 and qualified for the World Cup in England in 1999, cricket became dominant.

A decent ODI side, was Bangladesh good enough to play Tests? Did they have the quality to play the five-day format? The odds were stacked against the small nation.

Stunning Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup helped Bangladesh gain Test status, but it was Dalmiya's tactical moves that helped the minnows of international cricket win the crucial support in ICC's board rooms.

India promptly agreed to tour Bangladesh in November 2000. The first Test was played from November 13 in Dhaka and although they lost to big brothers India by nine wickets, history had been created.

For Bangladesh, there was a significant event in their cricket history in 1998. And Dalmiya was the man behind it. After ICC decided to host a short ODI tournament to raise funds for developing nation, Bangladesh, ahead of Disneyland in the USA, were given the right to host the first ever Mini World Cup (later changed to ICC Knockout Trophy and then to ICC Champions Trophy). Bangladesh were the first host of a tournament that featured Test-playing countries.

The event put Bangladesh firmly on the world map. In spite of massive floods, Bangladesh hosted the inaugural event successfully. South Africa defeated West Indies to win the first Mini World Cup but large turnouts in almost every game meant cricket gained big strides in a nation deprived of international events.

Bangladesh Cricket Board resident Nazmul Hassan said Dalmiya's demise was a tragic loss for Bangladesh's cricket fraternity: "With the passing away of Jagmohan Dalmiya, Bangladesh cricket has lost a true friend and a genuine well-wisher.

"We are forever grateful for the assistance and warmth received from Mr Dalmiya in taking cricket forward in Bangladesh. It is also apt to say that Bangladesh's elevation to Test status in many ways was a result of his farsightedness and wholehearted support. World cricket will sorely miss his dynamism, leadership and vision. His glittering legacy in cricket administration however, will live on."

This is what makes Jagmohan Dalmiya different from other cricket administrators from the world. The man, often autocratic in his ways, was all for development and it was his vision to market cricket that actually laid the foundation for India's subsequent riches and authority in world cricket. He shaped world cricket with a vision of a shrewd businessman who ran a successful construction firm.

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