Indeed, so serious were the concerns about Sawhney that Colin Graves, until last year the chairman of the England & Wales Cricket Board and member of the ICC’s board and nominations committee, is said to have objected to him being given the job.
It is claimed he was overruled amid a pledge to double ICC broadcast revenues to $5 billion by the Indian, who denies making such a promise.
“People were just staggered – just staggered – by his appointment,” says one former colleague.
According to another, after what was the briefest of honeymoon periods that saw Sawhney “portray himself as a reasonable individual”, it did not take long for the mask to slip.
“Within a few months, there were plenty of examples of belittling people, bullying behaviour and generally just trying to overpower people and make people feel little and stupid.”
Recalling seeing staff “come out of his room in tears because he’s bullied and belittled them”, the ex-colleague adds: “Some very senior people were deeply fearful of him, did everything they could to avoid him.”
One alleged victim says: “I used to monitor my heartrate. When he used to phone, it would go up to about 110, 115 – just on him phoning.”
Another recalls “living under the darkest of clouds”, adding: “You don’t know whether you’re going to bowl into work one day and that’s it, you’re done.”
Both speak of the fear of losing their jobs in a country in which their right to remain was directly tied to their employment.
Asked whether quitting had been an option, one says: “When you relocate to Dubai with a family and you have kids in school, it’s not as easy as just getting a job down the road.”
This “culture of fear” allegedly continued until desperate staff approached Graves last year before eventually blowing the whistle in a cultural review overseen by his successor, Ian Watmore, and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The review, which has not been made public, made four findings against Sawhney, in that he “conducted targeted acts of bullying against certain staff”, “exhibited physical aggression, such as fist banging”, “impacted directly and indirectly on individuals’ health and wellbeing”, and “failed to properly report to the board and implemented decisions or changes without proper consultation with the board”.
Sawhney was immediately suspended on what was March 9, with a disciplinary hearing convened in June at which he rejected the findings of the review, proclaiming he had been the victim of a “pre-meditated witch-hunt” amid a power struggle centred on the election of a new ICC chairman and his own attempts to challenge the hegemony of England, Australia and India within the game.
But all except the last of the four findings were upheld and the ICC board relieved him of his duties at an emergency meeting in July, a decision he unsuccessfully appealed the following month.
The ICC has said the review’s findings had been “serious and concerning” enough to warrant the “disciplinary” action that led to Sawhney’s dismissal.
Sawhney’s alleged victims say his departure has triggered a roller-coaster of emotions.
One says: “The environment around the office changed almost instantly. Like a light being switched on or clouds disappearing. People could breathe again. People could function again. You could have conversations again.”
The ex-colleague who recounted suffering what appears some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder claims to be in a better place months later.
But they, and others to have worked under Sawhney, are aghast that he retains a senior role at United.
One says: “I don’t think he’s fit to lead anything and he shouldn’t be in a senior role anywhere.”
Another adds: “He has excellent financial, commercial acumen. But, as a human being, I wouldn’t put him anywhere.”
A third says: “In making money, you’ve got to care about your people, and he doesn’t care about people.”
But two former ICC colleagues of Sawhney’s, who left before the cultural review, cast doubt on the characterisation of him as a bully, with one questioning the motive behind his sacking.
Sawhney has sat on the United board alongside the Glazers and Ed Woodward for almost a decade, a role he views as advisory with no direct responsibility for operations.
The Glazers, Woodward and the club have refused to answer several questions from Telegraph Sport about Sawhney’s sacking from the ICC, whether the findings against him represent grounds for his dismissal as a director and what steps they have taken to interrogate those findings and other accusations against him.