George Paul - Last week brought a big change. Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf made an exit. Najam Sethi came in. The dismissal was handed down by the patron, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, dissolving the board of governors. An ad-hoc committee was put in place for picking a chairman from among its eight members. Not surprisingly, Sethi, who acted as interim chairman while Ashraf had been placed under suspension, was chosen unanimously.
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf alleges the interim chief minister had rigged polls in at least 35 constituencies and is being rewarded for this supposed loyalty.
With Sethi back at the helm, many questions pop up in the mind. One cannot help thinking why has he returned. Can he exercise an effective control over affairs of the PCB? Can he convince other countries to play in Pakistan? Can he stabilise an unstable organisation? How long will he stay? Can he bring improvements to the team? How is he different from his ‘predecessor’? Will he be able to turn Ashraf's failures into successes?
But they look utterly alike. There has been a tremendous likeness in appointments of both Ashrafand Sethi as they derive their power from two different leading political groups. Ashraf is Zardari’s legacy and Sethi Nawaz Sharif’s. They are both political favourites; both equally misfit for the crucial slot.
It is glaringly evident that political influence has marred the PCB and gone on to dividing cricketers crippling their sportsmanship. There is a general belief that the PCB is best-served by having a professional in charge at this time. However this proposition turns otherwise in the case of Noor Khan, Arif Abbasi, Khalid Mehmood and Tauqeer Zia to name a few. They were all from non-cricketing side and still brought glory to our cricketing nation in their times.
No doubt cricket is a multi-billion business now. And one cannot deny the fact the top PCB slot attracts stardom and global reach and has apparently become the bone of contention between the two aspirants.
Despite all the fumbles he had Ashraf is still relentless, but regrets that even after challenging the Big-Three his efforts are still a zero. He insinuates the constitution he drafted was not dubious. “It was passed out in consultation with the ICC and PCB governing body.”
He explains that he drew up the constitution on a short notice and saved Pakistan from ICC dismemberment by holding election. He also says the law department and the board of ICC had thoroughly perused the constitution.
Former PCB chief says he had to face a critical ICC, recalling when he attended his maiden ICC meeting many had said Pakistan was not stable and likewise there was no stability in PCB chairmanship and it was not sure whether or not he would complete his term.
“That has turned out to be the truth. The government has crossed all limits to oblige an individual,” Ashraf says, “It was not government’s case but it dismissed me.” He contends the election process was transparent that is why he was reinstated by the Islamabad High Court.
He complains that despite his repeated requests Prime Minister Sharif did not spare time for a meeting when he had to seek his guidance over the rapid changes being brought to the world cricket body.
He says the PCB had declared it would not ‘bend down’ to any changes in ICC, recalling Sethi, Ihsan Mani andSheharyar Khan had also backed his stance but later charged him with isolating Pakistan.
Ashraf accepts India, which is in the driving seat in the new ICC set-up, is a big cricketing nation, but says it cannot be trusted. He reasserts his removal order was “undemocratic”.
But a PCB committee member insists Ashraf served Indian interests. “India thought he was the one they could have a settlement with.” He says Ashraf fumbled at fighting Pakistan’s case forcefully. “He (Ashraf) could have sided with the powerful bloc, but he did not. He opted a way out by abstaining and not opposing the shake-up of governance and structure of the ICC.”
The committee member, who wished anonymity, expresses surprise it took Ashraf two years to draw up the constitution, saying he did not consult anyone, not even the PCB governing body, but went on to holding a “secretive” election under a “dubious” constitution.
“You see a dream – then you go to the (former) president who is friends with you. What type of democracy is this,” he questions referring to Ashraf’s remarks about his removal.
Asharf had made 112 arbitrary appointments – an extra burden of Rs 60 million on PCB – at a time when the board was in a financial crisis. “A Supreme Court committee will hold an inquiry into these irregularities,” adds the committee member.
There are so many weaknesses the PCB has to work on like selection process, physical fitness, and batting and bowling combination besides taking care of the issues impeding Boards’ good governance.
The new committee will be working on the team, says a veteran batsman, “We are working to have better relations with India – the main stakeholder in the new ICC apparatus. Negotiations are in progress.” He says at present the committee is entangled in countless problems but it will produce results.
Interestingly the new committee draws its three members from the axed board of governors.
“Failures are being endorsed,” says left-handed batsmanAamir Sohail, “Nothing is going to change.” He says cricket-lovers should pin no hopes on the new PCB set-up.
The former chief selector says a “childish” and “egoist” Sethi has been awarded PCB chairmanship by the government. “The ad-hoc committee is illegal. The court will dismiss it within no time.”
The former captain also asserts that the much-talked constitution was passed out with consultation and approval of PCB governing body. Sohail sides withAshraf, saying his stance on ICC revamp was right. “It has been acknowledged all over the world.”
Former fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz gives a slightly different side of the story. He says: “Ashraf was too much banking on former ICC chief executive Haroon Logart for having South Africa by his side in opposing ICC revamp considering the fact that it was he who hired him in his failed idea of Pakistan Premier League as consultant.”
He argues that Ashraf does not know anything about cricket, saying, “He made wrong decisions. For example, he gave Miandad the slot of director general that included duties the star batsman found hard to fulfill.”
Nawaz says there should be no favoritism in the PCB affairs. In his view, Ashraf should have had discussions with other cricket teams and boards as well with regards to ICC revamp. An aloof Pakistan needs government support.
Nawaz holds the view Pakistan cricket team performed better under supervision of Sethi. “PCB will be streamlined and election will be conducted within four months,” he says referring to Sethi’s recent remarks. He calls Ashraf’s constitution “destructive”.
Interestingly, when all the cricketing nations were designing plans for new shake-up in the world cricket body, a sense of uncertainty was haunting Pakistan. No one knew who would be the chairman; who would be attending the ICC meeting. Would it be Sethi or Ashraf?
Former Test cricketer Mohsin Khan puts it this way, “Before Pakistan side went to ICC there was uncertainty as to who would be representing the country.”
He says no homework was done so as a setback there was no settlement with the major bloc.
According to Khan, Ashraf had been given unsuitable advices by certain members in the governing body and a couple of outsiders. He says: “PCB affairs were not managed judiciously.”
Khan thinks the three big ICC revenue generating powers – India, England and Australia – want to dominate the world cricket, and calls on ICC to ensure fair play.
In his view, there should be no politics on cricket. He thinks the PCB chairmanship should be of 5-year to ensure continuation of policy and effective planning. He feels Pakistan’s new PCB body should hold meetings with other cricket boards on a regular basis to project the stance of Pakistan and its concerns over ICC revamp.
Over the years cricket has become an integral part of Pakistani culture. We produced world class players and won the 1992 world cup.
Today Indian propaganda is proving too strong for thePCB. It must be on guard. And those concerned should ensure no political haggling goes around. The PCB affairs are managed in an effective and transparent manner. The chairman works to a tee. Or Pakistan cricket will be the ultimate victim.