N.K.P. Salve, who died today aged 90, wore many hats as cricket administrator, Union minister, backroom mediator and chartered accountant. But first and foremost, he was a self-respecting nationalist.
It was his sense of self-respect that catalysed one of the biggest changes in the world of cricket: the transfer of power from England and Australia to India exactly a quarter-century ago.
Four years earlier, Salve had been president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, apart from being a minister in the Indira Gandhi government, when India won the World Cup at Lord’s in June 1983. Yet, he was denied a few complimentary passes for the final by the International Cricket Council (ICC), then the fief of England and Australia.
The humiliation sparked Salve’s relentless bid to “democratise” the ICC and break the predominantly white nations’ hegemony over cricket administration. He teamed up with Jagmohan Dalmiya and I.S. Bindra to unite the Asian nations and pull off a coup.
What would have seemed unthinkable a couple of years earlier happened in 1987: the World Cup tournament left English shores for the first time and landed in the subcontinent.
India did not win the event but Salve lived long enough to witness the end of the wait on April 2 last year, a victory whose first anniversary he has now just missed by a day.
Salve’s feat in bringing the tournament, if not the trophy, to India was extraordinary on several counts. One, it was hosted jointly by arch-rivals India and Pakistan. Two, it was sponsored by Dhirubhai Ambani at a time many in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet were gunning for the industrialist.
There were other tricky issues too, such as England picking Graham Gooch and John Emburey, who had played in the then apartheid-tainted South Africa.
Salve, who headed the joint organising committee, faced many uphill tasks in the run-up to the event. For instance, Rajiv and the maverick Pakistani dictator, Zia-ul Haq, needed to be brought on the same page. Salve’s proximity to Air Marshal Noor Khan of Pakistan came in handy.
The first India-Pakistan joint declaration on cricket came two months before the tournament.
Also, Salve and his team had to counter many issues raised by the English, such as the quality of the pitches in the subcontinent, lack of foreign exchange, the food and hotels.
Salve, then Union power minister, prevailed on Rajiv, who was holding additional charge of finance after V.P. Singh’s exit, to do the needful. He also stayed in close touch with Dhirubhai who, after his illness, had handed over the organisation of the Reliance World Cup to his young sons Mukesh and Anil.
Reliance offered $5 million as prize money and Australia walked away with the winner’s booty of $2.24 million. It marked a giant leap from the £4,000 that the winners of the inaugural Cup in England had received in 1975.
Salve, though, stayed a modest man in private conversation and a staunch Nehru-Gandhi loyalist in political life, keeping a low profile despite enjoying the trust of Indira, Sanjay, Rajiv and Sonia as well as Narasimha Rao.
Time and again, he would succeed in getting warring adversaries, in politics or business, to sit together and strike a settlement but would never boast about it.
Salve won two elections from Betul district of Madhya Pradesh and later served four terms in the Rajya Sabha.
Salve retired from active politics in 2002. In the hours when he was not playing with his favourite dogs, he used to share his anguish at his unfulfilled dream to see Vidarbha as an independent state.