Almost exactly ten years ago, Dr Nasim Ashraf stepped down as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). He took the decision just hours after President General Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation back in August 2008.
Ashraf didn’t quit because he was fed up with the job. In fact he loved it. He resigned because he saw the writing on the wall.
Ashraf was handpicked by Musharraf to head the PCB in the fall of 2006 soon after former chairman Shaharyar Khan fell out of favour following his ugly spat with Younis Khan. During his tenure, Ashraf had Musharraf’s complete support, which enabled him to survive tough times like the one faced by the Board in the aftermath of Pakistan’s embarrassingly early exit from World Cup 2007 held in the Caribbean islands.
However, with Musharraf out of the equation, Ashraf knew he had no such luxury left any more. Even if he had opted to stick to his guns, it was only a matter of time before Asif Zardari and the new PPP government brought in their own man to head the Board.
Najam Sethi faces a similar situation at the moment.
Just like Ashraf, Sethi must have also read the writing on the wall. However, unlike Ashraf he has opted against stepping down as PCB chairman.
Apparently, Sethi believes that he has legitimate claim to the PCB throne. Surely, he has the support of PCB’s Board of Governors. But it’s an open secret that Sethi’s legitimacy came from a much higher source than the rubber stamp board of governors. It came from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. After Sharif’s fall, Sethi had the support of his successor Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. But that’s a thing of the past.
On Saturday, Imran Khan took the oath and became the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. And whether he likes it or not, Sethi’s fate is now in the new PM’s hands. Sethi is a seasoned, vastly-accomplished journalist. A man like him shouldn’t allow himself to be in a position like this. He should have resigned just like Ashraf did ten years ago.
It’s not because Sethi is a bad chairman. It’s because Pakistan cricket would be better off if it avoids a war of succession. Sethi knows what that means. He fought and won a similar war against his predecessor Zaka Ashraf after PML (N) emerged victorious in the 2013 general elections. There was too much uncertainty in Pakistan cricket with PCB officials busy in dealing with the courts.
It’s true that Sethi has the option of taking the legal course if the new government decides to make changes in the PCB. But does he have the moral authority to do that? I don’t think so.
As PCB chairman, Sethi did surprisingly well on a few fronts. His biggest success was the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Under him, the national team did well. The campaign to bring international cricket back to Pakistan also made progress. But it’s an open secret that in order to consolidate his authority he leaned too much on vested interest elements. And those elements were more interested in safeguarding their own interests. The net result is that despite tall claims Pakistan domestic cricket structure remains in tatters.
Even Ashraf had his share of success. Under his watch, Pakistan successfully hosted the Asia Cup while the national team reached the final of the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 championship in South Africa in 2007.
But the sort of success achieved by Sethi or Ashraf before him isn’t the sort of success on which legacies are built on. PCB and its chairman could only be truly dubbed as successful if they are able to take long-term steps which can guarantee cricket’s progress in the country.
That’s why despite all his contributions, PCB and Pakistan cricket would be better off if Sethi steps down and allows the new government to implement its own plans. Maybe, just maybe, Imran Khan and other decision-makers in the new government would not repeat the same mistakes of the past and would think long-term while making changes in the PCB. Maybe, just maybe, they would focus on the system rather than individuals.
It would also be better for Sethi if he quits while he is still ahead. He would be remembered as the chairman who gave Pakistan cricket the glitzy PSL rather than the chairman who was sacked by Imran Khan.
Whether Sethi resigns or decides to stay and fight, it seems quite evident that there are going to be major changes in Pakistan cricket in the coming months.
Hypothetically speaking, if a new chairman takes over then he is going to have a tough task facing him. The new chairman will need to rope in a competent team to run the PCB. The current team is more of a liability than an asset for Pakistan cricket. The new chairman shouldn’t waste much time in forming a strong team around him. A chain, they say, is only as strong as its weakest link. The current PCB set-up is replete with weak links. What the Board needs is competent professionals, who are capable and competent enough to face the various challenges being faced by Pakistan cricket.
Secondly, he will have to find ways and means to help bring back international cricket to Pakistan. Our cricket bosses might be okay with the idea of making UAE the official home for Pakistan cricket, the bitter truth is that hosting our ‘home’ games abroad is not the solution, at least not a long-term one.
Frankly speaking, most international teams have never been comfortable with the idea of visiting Pakistan. All we had to offer them is our warm hospitality. High-profile cricket stars from countries like Australia and England can’t just survive on mere warmth for a tour that could last for six weeks or even longer. Now if we give them the option of playing our home matches in tourist-friendly places like Dubai or Kuala Lumpur, we are just kissing our chances of once again becoming an international cricketing destination goodbye.
The new chairman will also have to make it sure that the PCB is run in a professional manner. In an organisation that is focused on achieving its targets, there is no room for whimsical decisions. All steps should be carried out after careful planning. Extensive research before the launch of any major project should be a must.
The new PCB boss will have to help infuse new life into development projects. He will also have to bring transparency in the matters of Pakistan cricket. Over the years, PCB has become too secretive especially in its financial dealings. Take for example the case of the PSL. PCB’s critics allege that there have been financial irregularities on the part of the Board regarding the T20 league. A more transparent policy will put an end to all such speculations.
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News