Roger Michael Humphrey Binny, many friends like to call him by his full name, is one of the good ones.
His promotion as chairman of India’s Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) on Tuesday is timely and necessary after years of instability and lawsuits involving India’s wealthiest sports governing body.
A natural athlete, Roger Binny had already made a name for himself in school sports (hockey, soccer, track, and field) when I met him.
I tried it in college, hoping to be part of a team that already had some of the best junior cricketers and college stars (and future stalwarts of the game) in the state of Karnataka.
Roger Binny, who had joined the university that year, had also applied for the roster. I didn’t have to.
He had already opened the batting for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy (India’s top domestic tournament), played for them in the Irani Trophy against the Rest of India, and was only half a step away from playing for India.
The Irani Trophy is a tournament between the Ranji Trophy champions and a team that selects the best players from the rest of the Indian states.
His humility impressed me then, and his sense of cricket protocol never left him. In the end, he didn’t play for us. The bank that was chasing him finally got him to sign up.
Cricket was his future and as an international, as a scout, manager, manager, and manager he proved he was an all-rounder off the pitch too. No previous BCCI president has his qualifications. A baseman who achieved the highest position explains some of the satisfaction with the news of his promotion.
When India won the second Test in the 1986 series in England (and with it the series, 2-0); it was largely thanks to hitting Dilip Vengsarkar and pitching Roger Binny (5-40 in the early innings).
Three years earlier, Binny’s 18 World Cup wickets had played a key role in winning the title in India. His best figures, 6-56, came in the Test draw against Pakistan in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta).
Still, Roger Binny has one of the most extravagant records in India.
In domestic cricket, he was a batsman with power and finesse, sometimes hitting fast bowlers with extra cover for six of his back feet. In international cricket, however, he was a bowler who, with his swing and somewhat unorthodox action, confused the best.
A double century at the Ranji trophy and the first partnership of 451 (continuous) with Sanjay Desai was the national record for 19 years. Wherever he played, he was an excellent outfield player with a flat shot from the outfield and some solid hands from close range.
He played 27 Tests, 72 one-day internationals and in all first-class cricket; he averaged 34 with the bat and took 205 wickets.
His best test innings were under pressure. In the Jubilee Test against England in Mumbai, he opened up both batting and bowling for India.
In its 94-year history, the BCCI has had only two other test players as full-time presidents; Binny’s immediate predecessor, Sourav Ganguly, and the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram (1954-1956). Shivlal Yadav and Sunil Gavaskar made short contributions on an ad hoc basis.
Neither his personal history nor the cricket board will weigh heavily on Roger Binny when he took office.
For all their internal politics and the special interest of politicians and their families; national cricket teams have rarely been affected by boardroom gossip in recent years.
As the most influential national board in the game, what India thinks and says will shape the game worldwide.
And this is where Binny’s biggest challenge lies. You have to work your way between the white ball and red ball cricket; making sure that the former does not overwhelm you and the latter retains its importance.
In his own country, he will have to ensure that top-level and women’s cricket thrive and that the players here and at the lower levels find it financially worthwhile to keep playing.
The structure of the BCCI is such that real power rests with the secretary; and the president is a managerial job rather than a destiny-maker.
Binny’s cricket credentials may or may not exceed the wishes of those on his team who are inexperienced in the game, and that’s another balancing act he’ll have to accomplish.
Of the many benefits you have, the most important are your even temper and ability to get people to work.
The good guys sometimes have to thwart the plans of the bad guys. How well Roger Binny does will determine his legacy.