The last couple of years have been tough for PCB’s already soiled reputation nationally as well as internationally. There was a seemingly non ending feud between Najam Sethi and Zaka Ashraf for the post of chairman, the team was not doing well in ICC tournaments and on tour, the captaincy was always being questioned, there was dirty politics over who would keep wickets, and a range of other issues plagued Pakistan cricket and PCB in particular.
Though there are challenges that the Board still struggles to handle, things seem have become better for Pakistan cricket these past few weeks and given the odd ruffling of feathers such as KCCA’s standoff with the PCB over qualifying stages or the chairman’s reckless comments on PSL of which I wrote last week, some aspects of management on and off the field are showing promise.
The team seems to have gelled well and won everything on show in Sri Lanka, the selectors have picked youngsters in form, investment in players like Yasir Shah and Anwar Ali are paying off, the captains are secure and the PCB top management is acting in public defense of Sarfraz Ahmed. Indeed, there is the news that given his availability Sarfraz Ahmed is being considered to captain Pakistan ‘A’ against the English Lions (ECB name for their ‘A’ team when they play the former in UAE in December.
This plus the news that Sarfraz has been told that he will keep wickets in T20 Internationals, maybe even captain Pakistan, when Pakistan tour Zimbabwe for limited over games in end September-Early October is clearly a move designed to restore confidence in not just the Karachi wicketkeeper but also send a signal to Shahid Afridi and Waqar Younis as to who is boss.
PCB management, including both Shaharyar Khan and Najam Sethi, who remains a strong force behind the throne, have clearly noted the anger of past players, experts, media and the public in general and have no doubt arrived at this measure. It may even be termed as damage control but even at that it has been well handled, though I feel it was best handled by the aggrieved ‘keeper himself by putting on a brave face and saying that he respected the team management’s move to replace him with Rizwan for the T20 games.
The chairman, however, knows well that Sarfraz is unlikely to be given the opportunity to captain Pakistan ‘A’ in December as even if India doesn’t go ahead with the planned series with Pakistan at the end of this year, there will be another team, as announced several times by Shaharyar himself. This time it looks unlikely that the team management will drop Sarfraz from the T20Is; Misbah and Azhar Ali look likely to continue with him as they did in Sri Lanka and play Rizwan as a batsman and fielder and Afridi may just have his wings clipped after his domineering attitude over team selection based on the flimsy excuse of experimentation, whereas he did none of that by playing the other seniors and then continuing with an unchanged side in the second T20I.
On the India series, though the chairman remained evasive on its confirmation, the storm clouds are gathering and Shaharyar himself hinted at another factor other than the state of relationship between the two countries. And that is something that was mentioned before as well: the annoyance that BCCI feels toward Ten Sports for being a channel of the group that is creating its own world league of cricket so to say. It is rubbish of course. BCCI has no business to take its own quarrel with the group that owns that channel into what is Pakistan’s right.
Nevertheless, in his comments on various subjects he mentioned it as one of the two factors that will determine if the tour goes ahead. The reason I feel nervous of the tour going forward is that earlier this week BCCI’s arch enemy, Lalit Modi, officially confirmed that he is one of the founders of this concept and it was his brainchild. That links Modi to Zee Network/Ten Sports and provides fodder to BCCI that the channel that is to cover the Pakistan-India series, and from which the Indian networks will have to buy rights for screening the series in India, is actually part of their perceived rival. That is not good for either BCCI’s business interests or Indian ego, more the latter I would say.
But for now PCB has done well to not go hyper and indulge in eyeballing BCCI that they have signed an MoU that binds it to play Pakistan. The document I’m sure does not lay down conditions that any one side has rights to pick and choose which channel the host country gives broadcasting right to. Shaharyar has nevertheless stated that India must reply by end of August which is a fair enough call as the series broadcaster will need a few weeks to sell rights around the world and that can’t be done unless the buyers know who is playing Pakistan.
Good news on the PSL front also. It now seems it is a firm reality. Though of course the PCB would have preferred to host it at the quite impressive stadiums in UAE at least it will be held even if it is limited to one ground in Doha, Qatar. According to PCB sources, names like Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Martin Guptill are being mentioned as possible participants and I’m sure some big names, who are available will also be attracted to come. It looks a good bet that the event will be successful and given the news that PCB is trying for countries like Ireland to come and tour Pakistan this year and that former ECB Chairman and head of ICC Task force on Pakistan, Giles Clarke, wants to bring an international team here sometime next year, it seems Pakistan cricket is looking to a happier near future. It’s about time.