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Dr. Ashok Sigamani, son of Higher Education Minister Ponmudi, has been elected president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA). This was an unopposed election as his rival Prabhu had withdrawn his nomination and also the case he had filed in the Madras High Court over the elections.

The TNCA, functioning since 1932, held its 90th executive council meeting recently where Prabhu announced his nomination withdrawal. Not only Prabhu but also DSK Reddy and Kalidas Vandaiyar withdrew their HC cases.  Consequently, Dr. Sigamani was elected unopposed as the TNCA chief.

Prabhu had filed the case in the HC, alleging that it was only the persons connected with N. Srinivasan, chairman of the India Cements and former chief of the BCCI, who used to be office-bearers of the TNCA. Consequently, the HC ordered the TNCA elections and the Election Commissioner Chandrasekhar was to helm the elections.

Against this background, three persons in the rival camp of Dr. Sigamani had opted out of the race. It was this development at the TNCA’s annual meeting which has raised eyebrows and suspicions of some behind-the-scene manoeuvring.

Srinivasan’s domination
Srinivasan joined the TNCA through A. C. Muthiah during the 1990s and had longer served than Muthiah. Even now he is known as a king-maker and a game-changer in TNCA affairs.

For health reasons, Srinivasan had withdrawn from the TNCA. Yet, his daughter Rupa Gurunath became the TNCA chief in September, 2019. At that time, Dr. Sigamani was the vice-president.

When Srinivasan was at the helm in the TNCA, test series and tournaments used to be conducted regularly and the grounds well maintained. Tamil Nadu Premier League was a great achievement of his tenure.  The system of taking the best TNPL players in auction for IPL teams is still in force. Good state players such as Natarajan, Periyasamy, Shah Rukh Khan, Washington Sundar, Indrajit, Sai Sudharshan, Sai Kishore, Jegadeesan took part in the IPL matches. The credit for this can be given to Srinivasan.

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It was when Srinivasan was at the helm of affairs in the BCCI that the Chennai Super Kings team was formed during the 2008 IPL matches. Dhoni was part of the team. India won the one-day tournament cup during Srinivasan’s tenure. He took on board young players such as Raina, Rohit, Gohli and so on, bypassing senior players except Sachin. The Dhoni-Srinivasan link still continues.

Following a charge of involving the CSK in betting in 2013, Rupa’s husband Gurunath Meyappan  had  refrained from taking part in cricket-related events.

DMK relationship
Srinivasan had long been close to the DMK and its patriarch M. Karunanidhi. We have seen DMK personalities such as Udayanidi Stalin, Durai Murugan and so on watching CSK playing.

During the 2011-20 period, the yellow gallery was seen vacant because there was a restraint on it as it was said that the galley had been built in violation of rules. Even when the AIADMK was in power it could not solve the problem. Now efforts are under way to set it right.

At this point, Srinivasan’s clout with the DMK is quite manifest.  The CSK has been in a position to get concessions whenever the DMK is in power.

Son of Higher Education Minister Ponmudi, Ashok Sigamani has been a pediatrician for the past 17 years. A cricket lover, he had links with the Villupuram cricket association. He has played in the doctors cricket league. His political background has only helped in his ascension.

The TNCA office-bearers have been functioning for about 20 years. Ashok Sigamani has been in the TNCA administration.

Jay Shah’s domination
It is a rule that the state cricket associations must act in coordination with the BCCI. If an international tournament is scheduled to be held in Chennai, it is the TNCA’s responsibility of organizing the event.  At present, Jay Shah calls the shots as BCCI secretary. For he is the son of Home Minister Amit Shah.

When Sourav Ganguly was the BCCI president, he conducted IPL matches successfully in the UAE during lockdown. Several BCCI office-bearers were selected again for BCCI posts, but Ganguly was left out. This brought to light the tussle between Ganguly and Jay Shah. The 70-year-old Roger Binny has been elected as BCCI chief.

Since the BCCI is under the control of a BJP dignitary’s son and the TNCA of a DMK stalwart’s son, cricket watchers wonder how there will be a smooth coordination between the state and central bodies.

Jay Shah has facilitated the construction of a sprawling ground in Gujarat and conducted several IPL matches there. In view of the fact that the BCCI is under the control of a BJP dignitary’s son and the TNCA of a DMK stalwart’s son, cricket watchers wonder how there will be a smooth coordination between the state and central bodies.

Politicization in cricket
The BCCI has, for the past eight years, been witnessing BJP domination. During Congress rule, big shots like Sharad Pawar dominated the scene. He also administered the Mumbai cricket association.  However, his domination was behind-the-scenes, not overt.

Anurag Thakur of the BJP was the president of the BCCI from 2015 to 17 before he was appointed Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs and Minister of Information and Broadcasting. His links with cricket still continue through his brother who is in charge of the Himachal Pradesh cricket association.

In the case of Sharad Pawar, his party’s influence may have helped him get a plum post in the BCCI. But he underplayed his political clout. After Jay Shah became the BCCI secretary, his exhibition of political clout has been in the open compared to Anurag Thakur. The fact that bypassing the much more reputable Eden Garden Grounds in Kolkata, Jay Shah opted for Gujarat,  his home turf, to conduct the IPL finals was an indication. We have seen the broadcasts of cricket tournaments projecting him prominently.

In an indicating of Jay Shah’s steamrolling tactics, he bypassed the much more reputable Eden Garden Grounds in Kolkata and conducated the IPL finals in Gujarat

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How Sigamani leverages his political backing for cricket will be keenly watched, as will TNCA syncing with the BCCI where Jay Shah is a powerful influencer. The new TNCA president Ashok Sigamani has announced that retired Tamil Nadu cricket players will be paid Rs.10,000 a month on the condition that they must have played for Tamil Nadu team in 10 to 24 matches. The new incumbent has announced that efforts will be made for the Tamil Nadu team to win Ranji Trophy and more cricket matches conducted.

The speed with which rivals’ court cases and applications for posts have been withdrawn shows the level of political penetration into the TNCA.  It remains to be seen how Srinivasan and company are going to deal with the national politics in cricket.

Tamil Nadu cricket has often faced charges of casteism percolating to lower levels. Barring exceptional talents like Natarajan, others find it a harder climb in an already highly competitive sport. The tag of being a minister’s son and the image of being Srinivasan’s man may stand in the way of Ashok Sigamani implementing sweeping reforms.

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