Senior journalist Najam Sethi extends his caretaking to Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) when he was nominated as interim chief of the Board by the government on Sunday. Days after his stint with the Punjab Government as Caretaker chief minister, Sethi, 65, gets the interim role with the Board from newly-inducted government following a court order.
PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf was ordered to halt work last month amid a row over his election, which was criticised in some quarters as unfairly influenced by President Asif Ali Zardari, the board's patron. "I have been asked by the prime minister to fulfill limited responsibility and I will do my best to do that," Sethi said while talking to media persons.
Zaka, 60, became the first-ever elected chairman of the PCB in the first week of May under a new constitution demanded by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to reduce political interference. Zaka's nomination was widely criticised by former players and officials who denounced it as politically motivated. Former Pakistan Army cricket coach Ahmed Nadeem Sadal challenged the appointment in Islamabad High Court and the court considering the elections dubious suspended Zaka from working and ordered the Inter-Provincial Committee -- looking after the sports affairs in the country -- to appoint an interim PCB chairman until the case is decided.
His appointment came as a surprise after the government’s counsel last week informed the court that former captain Majid Khan, cricket commentator Chishtie Mujahid and the former chief of the Federal Bureau of Revenue Mumtaz Haider Rizvi were shortlisted for the post. That list was reportedly passed to Sharif, who was to announce the winning candidate. According to reliable sources, Sethi’s name was not included in the list sent to Prime Minister Secretariat by the IPC and the government has taken its own consideration to give Sethi the PCB’s hot slot.
There were also rumours that Sharifs would extend some goodwill gesture to Sethi after coming into the power and Sethi was tipped to get a job in Pakistan Consulate in the United States. Sethi, on the transfer of Zaka as PCB chief from the post of ZTBL Chairman, had said in his TV programme that Zaka was sidelined by the government. But the global reach and star attraction associated with the slot of the PCB chief has becoming more noticeable and attractive.
The Pakistan board was facing a minor crisis following the court's ruling, as the PCB constitution allows its chairman near-absolute powers, making it almost a one-man show. Under the PCB constitution, the PCB chairman is also the chief executive officer and every major decision needs his approval. Chief among the board's issues, was the selection of Pakistan's squad for the upcoming tour of the West Indies; squads require the chairman's approval.
While talking to journalists, Sethi said his priority will be to facilitate the selection of the team for an upcoming tour of the West Indies. He will also attend the ICC annual general meeting later this week. "I will be facilitating the team selection which was pending because of the suspension of the chairman and then attend the ICC meeting," said Sethi. He said he would try to lead the organisation out of crisis in a transparent manner and will attend next week’s annual board meeting of the ICC.
The ICC meeting will be held in London from June 25-29. The chief executives of all the boards meet on the first two days followed by the Board meeting which is attended by the heads of member cricket boards. Pakistan tours the West Indies for five one-day and two Twenty20 internationals next month.
“My job is to resolve all the problems of cricket board in a transparent manner like election, selection and then go back home,” Sethi said. Sethi said he met with Sharif two days ago and the prime minister wanted him to represent Pakistan at the ICC meeting and also fulfill the orders of IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddique. “It was mandatory (to attend ICC meeting) because it has never happened in history that a country’s representative on the ICC board did not attend the meeting,” said Sethi, who will be accompanied by PCB chief operating officer Subhan Ahmed at the ICC meeting.
Sethi’s agenda also includes approval of the team selected for next month’s tour of the West Indies where Pakistan will be playing five one-day internationals and two Twenty20s. “More than 95 per cent of the work has been done and there’s not much time left. I will be meeting with the selectors and see what they have recommended before going for the ICC meeting.”
There is also a very important decision pending is to decide upon the broadcasting rights for Pakistan matches hosted by the PCB. Former LCCA Chief Khawaja Nadeem has already shot a warning about this decision and claimed that mal-practices had been involved in the past in the bidding process for awarding the broadcasting rights. Last time, when the PCB awarded the broadcasting right to a foreign sports channel during the controversial tenure of Ijaz Butt, the board had come under heavy criticism. Especially a local sports channel was too critical to accept the decision and in one of its programme, the senior sports journalists and anchors had grilled PCB’s media manager Nadeem Sarwar on the issue. Now on the payroll of the same organization, the situation could become really tricky for Sethi if he goes ahead with this most pressing issue on the PCB’s agenda as Sethi has declared already that he was intended to continue his media job after playing his short innings with the Board.
Last year the ICC issued a deadline of June 2013 for all the countries to run their cricket boards along democratic lines and under minimum interference from governments. Though the ICC reaction on the current situation of the Pakistan cricket affairs is yet to surface, but Sethi said the ICC has softened its stance because the game’s governing body realises there are complexities surrounding the governance of cricket in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“ICC had given guidelines to conduct elections in a democratic way, but now they realise there are problems at grassroots democracy in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan,” he said. “Previously they took a hard line but now they have softened their stance. We will go listen to them and then we will discuss it here with the courts, government and then take the decision.”