ajam Sethi has been one of the most divisive figures in Pakistan cricket since the day he was handpicked by Nawaz Sharif to head the PCB as the interim chairman back in the summer of 2013.
And that division has only gotten wider during the last four-and-a-half years.
His critics see Sethi as something of a usurper, who has used his influence in the corridors of power to get what is seen as the most coveted job in Pakistan sports. They question his credentials and often attack him for one reason or the other.
Sethi’s supporters see him as something of a saviour, an accomplished person who can take Pakistan cricket forward despite all odds. They underline his successes like the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and hail him for other achievements like last year’s visit of the World XI to Pakistan.
Whether Sethi is an asset or a burden is an argument that will continue raging. Sethi, in the meantime, remains unfazed in the face of the criticism he and the PCB are subjected to almost on a daily basis.
In an interview with ‘The News on Sunday’, the Board chief spoke on a variety of issues ranging from the PCB and PSL to the revival of international cricket in Pakistan. Following are the excerpts.
TNS: Generally seen as a coveted position, some past PCB chairmen have described it as a thankless job for one reason or the other. Do you share their feelings?
NS: Until I arrived on the scene in 2013, the Chairman’s position was indeed coveted. Like his predecessors, Ex Chairman Zaka Ashraf was all powerful and unaccountable with lots of perks and privileges because there was no representative BoG or constitution or internal auditor to hold him in check. He travelled first class with his spouse and family all over the world at PCB expense, he hired BMW limos for his personal use; he threw lavish parties at PCB expense, his personal guests travelled to faraway places to watch cricket matches at PCB expense, he hired dozens of PPP supporters on sifarish even though they were not needed professionally; etc. He spent crores of rupees on “consultants” and failed to deliver PSL. So he had no reason to think it was a thankless job.
But I changed all this. All such perks and privileges have been abolished. Instead, I have delivered PSL and facilitated the return of international cricket to Pakistan. But I do consider it to be a thankless job because no one remembers these reforms or achievements and everyone loves to flog the PCB and its Chairman. When the team wins, the boys played well. When it loses, the chairman is blamed for selection, captaincy, coaches, everything under the sun.
TNS: You took over as PCB chairman last year but you have been around for a bit longer than that. Do you think that the Board is an organisation capable of running and promoting cricket in Pakistan on professional lines or do you think there is a room for improvement?
NS: The PCB has been grossly mismanaged in the past. Only now as Chairman I have the power to sort it out. If I last a year or two, I will set most things right professionally. But it is still going to be an uphill task.
TNS: There is this belief in some quarters that the Board is sinking under its own weight because of too many employees. Do you share such concerns?
NS: I have sacked over 140 employees. Now I am filtering out the incompetent ones.
TNS: Whenever there is a cricketing disaster whether on or off the field, the Board and its top officials come under fire. Do you think that the criticism is unfair?
NS: Cricketing failures should be laid at the door of the selection committees, coaches, captains and players, in that order. But the Chairman is responsible for appointing the officials. If these are found to be lacking, and if the Chairman doesn’t replace them, then he should be held accountable.
TNS: When it comes to cricket, PSL is easily one of your biggest accomplishment. Recently there have been whispers that the league could be in trouble. Are these all are just rumours or is it a case of where there’s smoke there’s fire?
NS: The PSL is fighting fit. Some franchises are behind in making due payments to PCB but they have assured us of clearing their dues soon. We have announced ticket sales in the UAE as well as the seven commentators for the tournament. All systems are go. But I consider the return of international cricket as a very big achievement.
TNS: Some of your critics accuse PCB of failing to properly audit the accounts of PSL (both editions). Is there any truth in such allegations?
NS: All PCB/PSL accounts have been audited in a timely fashion by independent internal and reputed external auditors. The BoG that is made up of top professionals has approved the accounts. There are some disgruntled job seekers who are blackmailing PCB by spreading such lies.
TNS: The Board was also criticised for its backing of the T10 league in Sharjah. Why did the PCB give so much support to what was, in essence, just a private business enterprise?
NS: I have already given a detailed response to this question. There is no conflict of interest. Players and PCB all benefited from it. The PSL franchises did not lose a single sponsor to the T-Ten League. We helped the Emirates Cricket Board to make some money from the League because they are our valuable hosts for our PSL and international bilateral cricket tournaments.
TNS: Just months after winning the ICC Champions Trophy, Pakistan’s performance graph has dipped alarmingly. As PCB chairman, what do you think are the reasons behind it?
NS: The coaches and captains can best answer that question. I cannot presume to know more about the game than they do.
TNS: With World Cup 2019 just a year away, are you planning any steps to make sure that Pakistan will raise a team that is good enough to win the title in England?
NS: That is what Micky Arthur has promised me. But cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. No one can predict who will win the Cup. I would be over the moon if we won it. But I would be happy if we put up a good and spirited show.
TNS: The captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed has also come under scrutiny. Do you still support him as Pakistan captain in all three formats?
NS: Until I am advised by the Chief Selector and Chief Coach otherwise, the status quo will remain. We must plan for longer term results. Captains should be given a fair chance to prove their mettle.
TNS: Pakistan’s recent defeat against Afghanistan in the Under-19 World Cup was seen by your critics as a proof that our development programme is faulty. Do you agree?
NS: Not at all. Like Bangladesh, Afghanistan has also emerged as a worthy contender. That is why it is now a full ICC member.
TNS: PCB’s campaign to bring international cricket back to Pakistan got a boost when the World XI came here last year. What are your future plans to ensure that the country gets regular international action in the future?
NS: Not just the World 11. First Zimbabwe, now Sri Lanka. Three PSL matches in Pakistan in March, three matches by the West Indies in March too. Next year, insha-allah, more teams will come to Pakistan.
TNS: You have talked about inviting Australia and New Zealand to play in Pakistan later this year. Do you think that such matches are a possibility?
NS: I will try my best. Much depends on continuing good security conditions.
TNS: The Board has been trying without success to line up reciprocal matches with India. It has also been planning to take legal action against BCCI. But do you think that in the current political situation there is any chance that the Indians will fulfill their commitment?
NS: The BCCI is hostage to the politics of the Pakistan-hating BJP. But we are all familiar with the ups and downs in India-Pakistan relations. India is playing Pakistan in ICC tournaments. It will inevitably play bilaterally with Pakistan again because that is in the interests of both PCB and BCCI.
TNS: Many believe that the Indians have marginalised Pakistan by effectively forming a ‘big four’ with England, Australia and South Africa. So is Pakistan out of the big league?
NS: Not at all. Pakistan is currently head of the Asian Cricket Council that includes India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan — five out of ten top ICC full members.
TNS: There are concerns that the National Stadium might not be ready to host the PSL final next month. How confident are you that things will go according to plan?
NS: We are working day and night to get it ready. Allah willing, Karachi will host the PSL Final.