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Keep your eyes on the ball, Mr Chairman!

Instead of playing to the gallery, Najam Sethi should be more
practical and prioritise less glamourous targets like strengthening domestic cricket

Keep your eyes on the ball, Mr Chairman!
Najam Sethi likes to portray himself as a man on a mission. Just a day after taking over as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Sethi took a flight to Colombo in a bid to take the fight to the enemy. The fight, according to him, is for the cause of Pakistan cricket. And the enemy, as we all know, is the Indian cricket board (BCCI).

It seems that the biggest item on his agenda during his visit of Sri Lanka where Sethi is attending the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) moot is to stop India from hosting the Under-19 Asia Cup. BCCI is set to host the Under-19 Asia Cup in Bangalore in November but the Pakistanis want it to be relocated because of heightened political tensions between the two countries. This thorny issue has surfaced at a time when Sethi is giving assurances that he will soon help resume bilateral cricketing relations with India. Sethi and his cricket board are desperate to revive bilateral ties with BCCI because hosting India for a full series will bring a much-needed financial windfall for PCB. For the last several years, the likes of Sethi and Shaharyar Khan have tried and failed in their efforts to convince the Indians to resume bilateral matches with Pakistan. It’s been 12 years since Pakistan last hosted the Indians for a cricket series. In the current political situation where unfortunate border incidents continue to take place on a daily basis, there is little likelihood that India will agree to send its team to play Pakistan in a full series.

However, the new PCB chief would want us to believe that he can line up a ‘home’ series against the Indians in the near future. One remembers that during his last tenure as PCB chairman a few years back he did ‘confirm’ several such series with India promising hundreds of millions of dollars for the PCB. At that time Sethi wanted us to believe that he has done wonders by getting the BCCI to sign an MoU to play bilateral matches with Pakistan. The BCCI signed that MoU in exchange for PCB’s support for the controversial ‘Big Three’. PCB backed the scandalous move and got nothing in return. I won’t be surprised if PCB manages to get the Indians to agree to similar deals in the coming days.

As for the Under-19 Asia Cup, Sethi should know that Pakistan doesn’t have the sort of muscle that can force India or the ACC to relocate the tournament.

I don’t doubt Sethi’s intentions. I’m sure he means well for Pakistan cricket. But the thing is that just like his predecessor Shaharyar Khan, Sethi also likes to raise hopes of cricket fans fully aware that issues like revival of Indo-Pak cricketing ties are way beyond his pay-scale.

Speaking of Indo-Pak matches, Dean Jones was right on the money when he mocked India over its status as the world’s number one Test team saying that he doesn’t believe that the Indians deserve the top spot as they haven’t been playing against their chief rivals Pakistan in the longest format of the game.

In an interview with an Indian newspaper last week, Jones made it clear that Virat Kohli and his men should not see themselves as the world’s best team unless they play against Pakistan.

“I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as No.1 side in cricket. India became the ‘No.1 Test’ side without facing Pakistan. I would love to see the two teams play in a Test series. In last two-three years, there is so much improvement in Pakistan cricket,” Jones said.

The Aussie great certainly has a point. The Indians, under Kohli, have emerged as an all-conquering team but they are yet to conquer Pakistan in a Test series. Until that happens, India should keep their celebrations on hold.

Jones, who has shown loyalty for Pakistan following his fruitful stint with the Pakistan Super League (PSL), also spoke of the cricket world’s hypocritical approach about players safety.

“In recent times, there were quite a few terrorist attacks in Europe including London and sporting events are going on as usual. But teams refuse to travel to Pakistan. The hypocrisy is overwhelming!” he stressed.

Jones’ comments couldn’t have come at a better time. Sethi and his PCB have announced stepping up efforts to revive international cricket in Pakistan. A World XI is scheduled to visit the country next month despite an upsurge in violence. Sethi has announced that during his stay in Colombo, he will try the Sri Lankan cricket board to send its team to play a few matches in Pakistan later this year.

All of that sounds good but we will have to wait and see whether any of that will actually materialse.

The World XI’s tour of Pakistan remains iffy. Most leading Test-playing nations are averse to the idea of their players going to Pakistan. Lahore, the venue of the proposed Pakistan vs World XI matches, has been hit by a series of bombings in recent times. One or two more such incidents can derail the visit.

Pakistan’s plan to host a few of their ‘home’ series matches against Sri Lanka in the country also sounds good but whether the Islanders will agree to the proposal remains to be seen. Tragic memories of the unfortunate terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore back in March 2009 might not allow the country’s cricket officials to put their players in harm’s way.

The point here is that issues like revival of bilateral Indo-Pak cricketing ties and the return of international cricket to Pakistan aren’t low-hanging fruits. It will take more than mere words and hollow promises to achieve these goals.

Sethi and his team should be more practical and prioritise targets that are more achievable.

When Sethi began his second term as PCB chairman last Wednesday, he was right on the money when he announced that PCB’s biggest challenge is to make domestic cricket stronger. That’s where PCB should be making the biggest investment.

“There are challenges but the main target is to make domestic cricket much stronger and keep tapping into the talent. The other major issue is that all our hard work will go in vain if we are not able to bring international cricket back to the country,” Sethi said soon after getting ‘elected’ as PCB chief.

“Moreover, I am disappointed with (Pakistan’s progress in) women’s cricket. There are few good ideas and we will look to implement some reforms. We have done a lot of work and doing much more to make this possible … lots of people are disappointed and I request them to show some patience. There are security issues. One day we decide that a team will come and then something happens. Over the next 2-3 months you will hear some good announcements,” he promised.

Well, Mr. Sethi there hasn’t been any dearth of good announcements when it comes to PCB. What Pakistan cricket needs is good results. And that can only be achieved by keeping your eyes on the ball.

 

Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News

[email protected]

Khalid Hussain

khalid hussain
The author is Editor Sports of The News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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