V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
The election of the next chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) is boiling down to a vital question: Will former India captain and president of the Indian board (BCCI) Sourav Ganguly be interested?
The ICC is yet to announce the election date, expected to be at the end of this month, after Indian Shashank Manohar resigned as chairman on July 1, a week before his term was to end.
Deputy chairman Imran Hamid Khwaja, a former president of the Singapore Cricket Association, is the interim head.
Ganguly is the front-runner to become the new chairman as he has vast support among the ICC's 104 member-nations.
His experience as a national team captain and Test player boosts his credentials.
The 48-year-old has yet to announce his candidature.
The only thing probably thwarting his interest is that he still has plenty of work to do in Indian cricket. He took over the BCCI presidency only last October.
The England & Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves, 72, is the next favourite. He has the support of most key Test-playing nations.
Former Cricket West Indies (CWI) head Dave Cameron has officially announced his candidature.
But he does not even have the support of the CWI, which is backing Graves.
Imran may be a candidate if Ganguly does not contest.
But it's not going to be easy for an associate-nation member taking over the ICC leadership by sidelining the Big Three - India, Australia and England.
Imran, 64, has been an increasingly influential voice on the ICC board and sits on a number of key committees, including those for finance & commercial affairs, nominations, development (chair) and membership.
He has an outside chance as the ICC made changes to its constitution and structure in 2017 which stated that the chairman, who must be a current or former director, shall be elected by the board of directors by a secret ballot every two years.
Imran said that being ICC chairman on a permanent basis is "something I haven't ruled out".
Cricket South Africa director of cricket Graeme Smith, a former player, and Sri Lanka Cricket have come out in support of Ganguly.
The Pakistan Cricket Board is also understood to be favouring the Indian after its chairman Ehsan Mani, a former ICC president, declined to contest, saying he had been brought back into cricket administration by Prime Minister Imran Khan to improve Pakistan's cricket set-up.
Former England skipper David Gower feels Ganguly has the right "political skills" to lead the ICC as he has already displayed that as BCCI president, which is a "far tougher job".
Ganguly, however, is maintaining a guarded silence. His close associates in the BCCI emphatically say that his priority is to finish his promised agenda with the Indian board.
Matters have become difficult for him over the past three months due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The staging of the Indian Premier League this year is still in a limbo.
Ganguly is also awaiting the Indian Supreme Court's decision on a petition that would allow him and BCCI secretary Jay Shah to continue in their posts till 2025 by diluting their mandatory cooling-off periods.
These periods began this month.
Ganguly could be ready for the ICC job if the Supreme Court does not react favourably to the BCCI appeal.
Reports indicate that Manohar is backing Ganguly as his successor, but Ganguly's candidature largely depends on who and what the BCCI wants.
"We have not discussed this at all," BCCI treasurer Arun Thakur Dhumal said a few weeks ago.
"First, let the ICC announce the election process and then we will discuss it."
The BCCI surely wants a candidate who will pursue and preserve its interests in the ICC board, having seen them diminished during Manohar's rule.
The election to the ICC chairman's post is likely to become a completely different ball game if Ganguly is not in the fray.