The Economic Times (one of the best English papers in India, IMHO) had this fascinating report on Nita Ambani‘s increasingly important role in the Mumbai Indians (owned by her husband, Mukesh):
In the first two IPL seasons, she went for three or four matches each, but only as the “owner’s wife”. During the team’s second-half slump in IPL-2 in South Africa — six losses in their last eight matches — something stirred inside her. The despondency of defeat transformed her from an owner’s wife to a cricket aficionado and, eventually, the de facto chief executive.
“That’s when I began this restructuring,” she says.
In that sense, her evolution in cricket and her hands-on engagement with the Mumbai franchise is barely two years old. “She brings soul to the franchise,” says Sundar Raman, CEO of IPL. “Her involvement with the team is extreme. People don’t see the hard work she puts on the ground.”
I have mixed feelings about this story, which touches upon some larger class and gender issues. On the one hand, I think it’s incredible that a strong woman is taking charge of a group of men, especially in the realm of sports and especially in a country like India. I have argued before that women should be allowed in cricket in other ways, as umpires and commentators (and not, say, as cheerleaders). Even as the authors of this article chart Ambani’s rise in the Mumbai Indians, they reveal a back-handed condescension — Oh, she knows what reverse swing is!
On the other hand, the class problem still remains. There’s something deeply offensive in the way Mukesh Ambani off-handedly delivers the news to his wife he spent more than $100 million on a cricket franchise. I’ve often wondered how established cricketers like Sachin and Zaheer must feel having to kowtow and talk to IPL owners who insist on sitting in on team meetings (as Niti apparently does) and holding forth on all things cricket. What gives them the right, the ticket into the sacred dressing room, other than their money? And why must we be exposed to Vijay Mallya’s fat mug, and his son’s various faux-hawks?
Then again, I’m sure the BCCI and state cricket associations are filled with a similar lot — clueless politicians who seek to enrich themselves rather than the game. (Virender Sehwag and G. Gambhir led a mini-revolt in Delhi a couple of years ago on this front. Don’t know how successful they were, though.) So, I’m left in a bind: first, I say to Niti, enjoy your success, and congratulations on becoming the “de-facto CEO,” or as D. Bravo said it, Mrs. Boss. But secondly, I can’t dispel the sneaking suspicion that you, your money, and your family are helping to ruin cricket. A loss of innocence, I think Sanjay Manjrekar has called it.
UPDATE: Changed ‘Niti’ to ‘Nita.’ Sorry for the typo.