Is Sourav Ganguly a dark horse to replace his countryman Shashank Manohar, the outgoing ICC chairman?
Ever since it emerged that Manohar would not stand for another term after his tenure ends with the ICC annual conference in July, the general perception was ECB chairman Colin Graves was the frontrunner to take charge as the new chairman of the global cricket body. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic stalling world cricket, the BCCI has taken the opportunity to test interests from several Full Members on whether they would support Ganguly.
On Thursday, the former Indian captain got a firm thumbs-up from Cricket South Africa, whose representatives said "strong leadership" was necessary at ICC and Ganguly was "best positioned" to be at helm.
CSA, however, backtracked somewhat* in an official press release issued later in the day, saying it did not want to "anticipate any candidates who may be nominated for this important position".
In 2016, Manohar became the first independent chairman of the ICC. The position of chairman had come into being in 2014 when N Srinivasan, another former BCCI president, had assumed that position unelected, though.
In 2018, Manohar, the only candidate to file nomination, was re-elected unanimously by the ICC Board. As per the ICC constitution, Manohar is eligible for a third and final term. However, it appears as if he has decided to not take it up. That said, there remains speculation about whether Manohar might extend his term by a few months if asked by the ICC Board as world cricket grapples with the pandemic.
It is understood that the ICC Board is yet to finalise the nomination process after which eligible candidates can pitch their hat in the ring. To be eligible, candidates needs to be a current or past ICC Director (one who attends the ICC Board meetings as a representative of the respective country).
The 15 directors who sit on the ICC Board then are allowed to nominate one candidate. Nominees with two or more votes become eligible to contest the election. As it stands, the elections will happen at the ICC annual conference, which is scheduled tentatively for mid-July.
Ganguly became eligible when he attended his first ICC Board meeting, in late March, via video conference. On May 28, he is once again scheduled to attend the next Board meeting where members would discuss the next step in contingency planning on resumption of cricket.
'He has the credibility'
On Wednesday, Ganguly led the BCCI team along with Jay Shah (BCCI secretary) and Arun Dhumal (treasurer) in their talks with CSA, who were represented by Jacques Faul (acting chief executive) and former South African captain Graeme Smith (Director of Cricket). After the meeting, Smith was unequivocal about his support for Ganguly should the former India captain contest the ICC chairman elections.
"The president (sic, chairman) of the ICC now becomes a very key position going forward in terms of how the game can progress, and progress at the right level," Smith said on media tele-conference on Thursday. "It would be great to see a cricket man like Sourav Ganguly get into the president (chairman) role of the ICC.
"Now it's even more important to have someone in a role that can provide leadership to cricket; that understands and can navigate the challenges in the game today. Post Covid-19 and with the things that are going to come our way, we need to have strong leadership and I feel like Sourav Ganguly is best positioned for that at the moment. I know him well. I feel that he has got the credibility and the leadership skills and is someone that can really take the game forward."
Smith's comments come on the back of negotiations between the two boards for a three-match T20I series in South Africa in August. India have shown "willingness" to tour subject to relaxation of travel restrictions. The meeting itself was a result of discussions between Ganguly and Smith over the past few months. Incidentally, Smith had even delivered the 2018 edition of the Jagmohan Dalmiya lecture, organised by the Cricket Association of Bengal, of which Ganguly was president at the time.
Smith is the second person from the player fraternity to talk up Ganguly for the role. Recently, former England captain David Gower said he would not be surprised if Ganguly became ICC head in future. Gower said one had to be a "deft politician" to "run" the BCCI.
"Sourav has the toughest task imaginable in charge of BCCI, but so far I would say the signs are very good. He has listened, given his own opinion and has pulled strings gently," Gower said on the fan chat show Q20 recently, organised by GloFans Off. "He is a very, very good man and has those political skills. And if you do a good job as BCCI chief in the future, who knows? Being head of ICC is an honour… but look at where the power is. BCCI is definitely the bigger job."
Ganguly has BCCI support
ESPNcricinfo understands that Ganguly would be the clear first choice to replace Manohar even among BCCI members. Srinivasan is another eligible candidate, although he doesn't qualify to be elected as a representative (over 70 years old) under the existing BCCI constitution.
Insiders say even Shah could be nominated as the BCCI's candidate, although for that he would first need to attend an ICC Board meeting. Anurag Thakur is the other eligible candidate, having attended ICC Board meetings as former BCCI president. However being a minister in the Indian government automatically disqualifies Thakur, the elder brother of Dhumal, as per the ICC constitution.
Ganguly was elected BCCI president last October, but his tenure technically ends in July after which he would need to undergo a three-year cooling off period. The same is applicable to Shah, who was previously an office bearer at the Gujarat Cricket Association. However in his case, it could not be confirmed when his cool-off period would start.
A month after taking charge Ganguly's administration approached the Supreme Court requesting the constitution be amended and norms concerning an office bearer's tenure be relaxed. The court is yet to hear the matter.
Neither Ganguly nor the BCCI has made any public comments on whether he would interested in contesting the ICC chairman's position. The one person who could be surprised if Ganguly were to enter the fray would be Graves. Last December, the trio of Ganguly, Shah and Dhumal had travelled to London to meet the ECB hierarchy giving the impression that the BCCI would back Graves' nomination.
However, the BCCI has been desperate to retain its powerful position at the ICC Board, something it feels has been lost since Manohar became ICC chairman. In recent months, various cricket boards including Cricket Australia, CSA, New Zealand Cricket have had face-to-face discussions with BCCI wanting to explore bilateral engagements to boost their commercial revenue with an India tour.
A person privy to the discussions BCCI has had with various boards said if Ganguly decides to contest, he could "sail through". This person said that most Full Member boards outside of the ECB, PCB and possible Cricket Ireland would support a BCCI candidate. One has already said that in public now.
Faul said that CSA was open to supporting BCCI, which it said had played a "leadership role" at the ICC. "We've always worked with closely with India and I think India must play a leadership role when it comes to the FTP and a responsible one for that matter," Faul said. "Our engagement with Sourav has been very positive and he has shown willingness to help us.
"We have checked this with the leadership of South African cricket if we would support an Indian candidate and at this stage, we would. But we also have to look at the integrity of the whole process. I don't think there are any nominations, no candidates that I know of, so they are still in the process.
"From a CSA point of view, we don't see any problems supporting an Indian candidate. To be fair, we've got to look at who is nominated, bring it back to the board, and there's got to be a mandate."
Hours after the comments of Smith and Faul went public, CSA sent out a release quoting its president Chris Nenzani.
"We must respect both the ICC protocol and our own protocol in deciding which candidate to back," the release said. "There have been no candidates nominated as yet and once such nominations have been made the Board of CSA will take its decision in terms of its own protocol and give the chairman the mandate to exercise his vote as an ICC Board Director accordingly.
"We have the highest regard for the opinions of our Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith, who is a well-respected figure in world cricket and has already made an immense contribution in fulfilling his mandate to make our cricket teams world leaders again.
"At the moment we don't want to anticipate any candidates who may be nominated for this important position to lead the game we all love."
*GMT 18.45 The story was amended to include CSA's official statement.