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Indian Cricket Controversies Part 3 -
by Boria Majumdar
Jun 03, 2007
Bundled unceremoniously out of the Board of Control, Anthony De Mello, like all other dictators, was thirsty for revenge. This was possible only if he could successfully outmanoeuvre the Pankaj Gupta-J C Mukherjee- Amarnath combine in the Board's elections in 1952. Nursing the ignominy of humiliation and insult, De Mello, the astute politician that he was, spared no pains in trying to achieve his aims. That things could go down to such a level was extraordinary. It just wasn't cricket. Modern day electoral campaigns with all its dirty power play would have learnt much from the final episode of the De Mello-Amarnath affair. Buying and selling of votes was common, as was the use of muscle power. Both sides offered lucrative posts, which included managerial positions of touring Indian teams to win delegates over and Calcutta, the stage of the election, was witness to some sensational drama in September-October 1952. The central actors who had taken centre stage in this drama were De Mello, Pankaj Gupta and Amarnath all of who portrayed themselves as avenging angels intent on righting wrongs done to Indian cricket during the other's tenure.

That De Mello had done much to develop cricket in India was beyond doubt. He had contributed to the building of stadiums and clubs, had organized a series of tours and above all was instrumental in the Board's establishment in December 1928. In regaining his lost position, he used all these achievements to good effect. A section of the English press was all praise for him and some leading sports journalists, close associates of his, were critical of Gupta and Amarnath. Class and social status had suddenly turned important and De Mello's polish was preferred to Gupta and Amarnath's rusticity. In fact it was once reported in the Times of India, "all that stood to the credit of the parent body was the handiwork of De Mello and the new office bearers would find it extremely difficult to emulate him."

Even when the 1952 elections were round the corner, De Mello was the favourite to win back the hot seat. Expressing this view, the sports correspondent of Times of India reported on 12 October 1952, "As anticipated the battle of the Presidentship had developed into a clash between the Bengal clique and that which supports my old and respected friend Anthony De Mello, and so well had the latter conducted his campaign that as late as on the day before the meeting there was a strong feeling evident that Mr. J C Mukherjee would certainly be dethroned by the veteran administrator he himself had unseated." In fact De Mello himself was assured of victory and had arranged for celebrations at a leading Calcutta hotel. This too was reported by the Times of India, "I am told that a wonderful celebration had been arranged at Calcutta 's leading hotel in anticipation of that ostensibly happy event."

De Mello's task was easy in the absence of Pankaj Gupta who was away in England for the most of September as Manager of the touring Indian team. Gupta was back in Calcutta in October, a couple of weeks before judgement day, and it was only then that the final countdown began. Amarnath had a special role in this drama and his selection as India's captain for the forthcoming tour of Pakistan had much to do with the determination of keeping De Mello out. Commenting on Amarnath's role, the Times of India reported, "Like a prima donna who bows numerous farewells Lala Amarnath comes back and forth as India's captain. That is no reflection on him but on the pinchbeck Caesar's of the Cricket Board of Control who unlike Caesar's wife never seem above suspicion." Finally, it was suggested that, "The motivations which excite the choice of India's captain are many and mysterious. And the selection committee appears to change its mind as often as a Hollywood actress changes her husband." It was justly questioned why six month's after he had been discarded, (Amarnath was dropped for the tour of England in the summer of 1952) was he suddenly invested with the duties of captaincy against Pakistan. It appeared outlandish because Amarnath had done nothing in the intervening period to merit selection, leave alone become captain.

The offer of captaincy had brought the Bengal clique closer to him and it was with his support that they prepared themselves to nail down De Mello for one last time. It was not without reason that the Times of India asserted, "There can be no doubt that the question of captaincy would play a big part in the ultimate result of the elections. No logical or practical explanation is possible in justification of the Board of Control's decision to dig Lala Amarnath from virtual obscurity and entrust him with the leadership of our representative side."

That it was a masterstroke was proved when on the morning of the annual general meeting the Bengal clique was assured of a majority. Though the margin was as narrow as it could get, 12-11, it was enough to keep De Mello out of the Board. Realizing the implications of defeat, De Mello ultimately withdrew his candidacy, giving up his bid to regain the Presidency of the Board. It was a perfect example of poetic justice. Methods used by De Mello to become President and remain in the lofty pedestal for over five years had been now been used with finesse to his detriment. This was largely the handiwork of Pankaj Gupta, evident from the report in the Times of India, "Tony's adherents, however, had reckoned (they would win) without that incorrigible pan chewing diplomat Pankaj Gupta, who, with his customary thoroughness and resource had utilised the appallingly few days since his return from England to such excellent purpose that on the morning of the AGM the Bengal clique was assured of a majority."

In hindsight, the saga of De Mello's ouster appears to have been orchestrated with poise by Gupta and Amarnath. It was all part of a meticulous plan, which becomes clear from the tenor of Amarnath's statements before the media a few months earlier. He was forthright in declaring that he would captain the team to England in the summer of 1952. Though this wish of his had remained unfulfilled, he was back in favour for the series against Pakistan. His outrageous statement abut captaining the side led the sports correspondent of the Times of India to assert, "I have no hesitation in saying today that if the parent body succeeds in disproving that its choice of a skipper was engineered by the exploitation of party politics, as usual, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that it is hopelessly inept and unschooled in its duties."

In the election at Calcutta on 5 October 1952, another surprise result was the defeat of Colonel C K Nayudu. The need to oust De Mello led the Bengal lobby to support H L Malhotra of Delhi against Nayudu for the post of Vice President and Ramaswamy of Madras for a post in the selection committee. Colonel Nayudu's services were forgotten in a hurry and unworthy men rewarded for their loyalty.

To add insult to injury, the Board headed by J C Mukherjee, decided to appoint De Mello chairman of the committee entrusted with the arrangements for the celebration of the Board's silver jubilee. It was not surprising that De Mello declined to accept the post. In a letter to the Secretary of the Board he stated, "As one of the founders of the Board of Control for Cricket in India I wish the silver jubilee celebrations great success but regret that owing to the uncertainty of my plans I am unable to accept your invitation."

This letter, written to stave of further humiliation, marked the end of De Mello's career as a leading Indian cricket administrator. His end was so inglorious that an ordinary Indian cricket fan hardly remembers De Mello as the arbiter behind a number of firsts in Indian/world cricket. He was the brain behind the set up of the Asian Cricket Confederation in 1948. It was no revelation when his birth centenary in 2000 was allowed to pass unnoticed by the Board. Except a function organized by the Cricket Club of India, nowhere else was De Mello remembered or functions organized to mark the 100 th birth anniversary of the Board's founder.

Soon after his defeat it was suggested by some that De Mello himself was responsible for his unceremonious exit. However, as the Times of India rightly summed up the situation, "De Mello could never have been able to pursue a dictatorial policy without the expressed or tacit approval of his fellow councillors. Several of those who were instrumental in the rise of De Mello to the highest administrative position in Indian cricket are still on the Board. It is futile for them to make a scapegoat of their latest victim, for they can never succeed in absolving themselves of their share of responsibility for what they now condemn."

 
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