Raj Singh Dungarpur: Controversial cricket administrator who championed the young Tendulkar

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Raj Singh Dungarpur was the most influential and controversial president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). This prince of the erstwhile state of Dungarpur had the same reputation when he was the chairman of national selectors, and manager of the Indian team on the tours of England in 1982 and 1986 and Pakistan in 1984-85 and 2005-06: he had a special talent to make friends and foes.

Dungarpur's imposing personality commanded awe and respect in any circle, and his command of English and gift of the gab were such that he would dominate meetings, debates and discussions, dwarfing his administrative colleagues. Even his political rivals, like Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former president of the BCCI and the International Cricket Council, struggled to be severe in their criticism.

The BCCI president from 1996 to 1999, he admitted he held the position "at the wrong time" and got "mixed up in the muddy waters of politics and the likes and dislikes of individuals". Dungarpur, who regarded the post of chairman of the selection committee as "the most thankless job in Indian cricket", had encouraged and promoted many talented cricketers, but allegedly ruined the careers of some stalwarts at the same time, particularly Mohinder Amarnath.

When dropped for the home series against New Zealand in 1988 and the subsequent tour of the West Indies in 1989, despite being in excellent form, Amarnath labelled Dungarpur and his fellow selectors as "a pack of jokers". Since Amarnath's father, Lala, had also been treated unfairly by the selectors in the past, he went on to say that the "jokers" either did not like his "face" or "surname" or "both".

Dungarpur, who had preconceived notions about people and usually reacted impulsively, seemed to have a grudge against Amarnath. He never gave a rational explanation for his omission. He told an interesting story, apocryphal or true, concerning the master batsman on the 1986 tour of England. He said Amarnath told him, "a month before the Leeds Test", that he never saw a cricket ball move and swing so much as at Headingley. "I had taken a five-pound bet with the India team's administrative manager, V.B. Prabhudesai, that Mohinder wouldn't play at Headingley. He didn't."

On the positive side, after watching the 14-year-old Sachin Tendulkar score a triple century, Dungarpur was instrumental in amending the rules of the historic Cricket Club of India (CCI) in Mumbai to allow the teenager to use its dressing room, smoothing things out for the batsman early in his career. He headed the selection panel that picked the 16-year-old for ndia's tour of Pakistan in 1989-90. In 1999, when Tendulkar wanted to step down from the captaincy in the middle of a series against South Africa, Dungarpur persuaded him to wait until it ended.

Then, in 2001, when Sourav Ganguly was leading the Indian team, he patted Rahul Dravid on the back in the dressing room in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and inquired, "Are you ready to be the captain?" He appeared to have as strong a dislike for Ganguly as he had for Amarnath. He once proclaimed that Ganguly was not a student of the game, calling him lazy, a bad role model and the worst fielder in the side.

Raj Singh Dungarpur was born on 19 December 1935, in the princely state of Dungarpur in southern Rajasthan, the youngest of three sons of Maharawal Lakshman Singhji, the ruler of Dungarpur. A gangling right-arm fast-medium bowler, Dungarpur led his Vikram university team and played first class cricket for Rajasthan between 1956 and 1971, taking 206 wickets at an average of 28.84. He featured in seven losing Ranji Trophy finals against Mumbai.

Regardless of the controversies, Dungarpur was a passionate cricket lover, so much so that he used to sleep with Vinoo Mankad's bat by his side. He was also an avid collector of memorabilia and a popular radio commentator. His visionary capabilities were evident in the key part he played in the establishment of the National Cricket Academy at Bangalore in 2000.

He was accused by some as being a snob, but it was not true. Of course, he loved most things English, and owned a flat opposite Lord's. "English cricket left an impression," he said. "But anything that India does gives me much greater pleasure than England winning back the Ashes." A lifelong bachelor, Dungarpur enjoyed a close friendship with the Indian melody queen Lata Mangeshkar.

Haresh Pandya

Raj Singh Dungarpur, cricket player and administrator: born Dungarpur, India 19 December 1935; died 12 September 2009.