Zaka Ashraf is back and once again he is saying all the right words. It is without doubt a remarkable comeback as not even the most ardent of his supporters actually believed that Ashraf would be restored as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) after spending seven months in cricketing wilderness. After all, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui gave a hard-hitting verdict last May when he removed Ashraf as PCB chairman. Then the IHC order questioned the legality of his election as the Board chief and dubbed the process “dubious” and “polluted”.
It seemed that Ashraf’s tenure as PCB boss was dead and buried.
Until last week when a two-judge bench of the same court came out with a verdict that was in complete contrast to the previous one. The IHC bench cited that Ashraf’s removal was against the principal of “natural justice” as he was ousted without being given a chance of a hearing.
So Ashraf, who first got the job in 2011 when Asif Zardari was in power, is back at the helm of national cricket affairs. And once again he is saying all the right words. He is talking about, among others things, the betterment of Pakistan cricket, about the importance of professionalism in the Board and about taking the national team to the top in various formats.
It is quite obvious Ashraf, just like most of his predecessors, has a habit of making big promises. But the question is whether he or the Board is capable of fulfilling them.
I don’t think so.
Even during what were the best of times for Ashraf as PCB chairman, he was unable to back his words with equally strong actions. At the time when he replaced Ijaz Butt as PCB chairman, Ashraf had complete government support because of his connection with PPP — then the ruling party — and its chief Asif Zardari — then the country’s president. I won’t say that the going for him was easy even then. Pakistan cricket faced Herculean tasks just like the ones it confronts now and it was unsurprising when Ashraf, a cricketing novice, fell way short of achieving targets like convincing Bangladesh to come and play a series here or launching the so-called Pakistan Super League.
It’s the worst of times for Ashraf as he starts his second inning as PCB boss. Asif Zardari doesn’t call the shots anymore as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is now PCB’s patron-in-chief. So it’s really difficult to believe that Ashraf would succeed now where he failed in the past.
In fact, it remains to be seen whether the newly-reinstated chairman would be allowed to complete his four-year term which began last May. Already, there are indications that the government will appeal against the IHC judgement in the Supreme Court. So for the time being, Ashraf’s focus is going to be on his own survival rather than on the betterment of Pakistan cricket.
For Pakistan cricket, it’s a sad story.
Cricket is the only sport that is madly followed in Pakistan. It’s much more than a national pastime. It has given our people unprecedented joy in the shape of memorable events like the title-winning triumphs at the 1992 World Cup and the 2009 World Twenty20 championship. Cricketing heroes like Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and many others are a part of the very fabric of our nation.
A sport which carries such immense importance cannot be treated the way it is treated in Pakistan. A president or a prime minister can decide with a mere stroke of the pen as to which individual would be allowed to run a one-man show known to us as the Pakistan Cricket Board. Most of the times they have failed to pick the right man for the job. Honestly, do you think Zaka Ashraf qualifies to be that man or for that matter Najam Sethi, Nasim Ashraf, to name a few. They are all well-meaning gentlemen and I’m sure that they have their strengths in certain areas. But believe me when I say that neither of them has the right credentials to run Pakistan cricket, at least not on professional lines.
So the return of Zaka Ashraf doesn’t make much of a difference to Pakistan cricket which remains in a state of turmoil. The story is unlikely to change unless sweeping changes are made to the existing system. Unfortunately, there are little or no signs of such a change taking place. The courts have so far tried and failed to make sure that the PCB chairman is elected through a transparent process. The Prime Minister seems happy to keep the remote control with which a hand-picked person can be installed as the head of what is by far the most important sports body in the country. Vested-interest elements (there is no dearth of such parasites in Pakistan cricket) are also keen to keep the status quo so do the various directors and managers in the PCB. A cricketing outsider in the role of PCB chairman suits them just fine. For all of them it’s a win-win scenario. What’s actually good for Pakistan cricket is another matter.