Back in 2015 when Shashank Manohar took over as the President of the Indian cricket board (BCCI) for a second term, Indian cricket was going through turbulent times. It had yet to come out of the aftermath of the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal and the Indian courts were breathing down BCCI’s neck over several issues.
Manohar was well aware of the fact that he had no time to waste and decided to go after various scourges dogging Indian cricket. His shock and awe approach was aimed at tackling a variety of problems and among them was the conflict of interest issue. Soon after he took over from the controversial Narayanaswami Srinivasan, BCCI took a series of decisions to tackle this thorny issue. Former Indian cricketer Roger Binny was asked to step down because his son, Stuart, also played for the national team. Ravi Shastri had to give up his position in the IPL Governing Board because he was on BCCI’s payrolls.
Some critics would argue that Manohar picked low-hanging fruits and was unable to go after tougher targets in his campaign to end conflict of interest in Indian cricket.
But at least he tried.
You cannot say the same about Ehsan Mani.
When the former ICC chief took over as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) earlier this month, expectations were high that he would soon start taking a series of bold decisions to put Pakistan cricket on the right track.
But he opted to play it safe when the first controversy of his term flared up recently. I’m talking about the nepotism allegations that surfaced against Inzamam-ul-Haq, the former Pakistan captain who is serving as chief selector.
There has been a whispering campaign in national cricket circles since last year when Inzamam’s 21-year-old nephew, Imam-ul-Haq, was handed his One-day International debut. With Inzamam as its head, the national selection committee also picked Imam in Pakistan’s Test squad earlier this year. But a series of good outings by Imam, who is making his bones as a reliable top-order batsman, stopped the whispers from turning into full-blown allegations.
But that happened recently when claims were made that Inzamam tried to push for the case of his son Ibtasam’s inclusion in the national junior team. The claim was made by former Test cricketer Abdul Qadir, himself a former chief selector. He alleged that Inzamam called up Pakistan’s junior chief selector Basit Ali regarding Ibtasam’s selection for the national under-19 team. Following a series of media reports, Inzamam reacted by dismissing the allegations and sought a meeting with Mani. The two met with the PCB chairman announcing that the Board has full confidence in Inzamam. In fact a media release was issued after the meeting in which the Board tried to end the matter by vehemently rejecting the allegations of nepotism against Inzamam and Basit.
But I don’t think that a press release or two, however forceful, will be able to end this matter.
Instead of taking the easy way out, Mani should have cracked the whip on the conflict of interest issue that has been plaguing Pakistan cricket for a long time. Unfortunately, in the case of Inzamam, the PCB chief has shied away from it.
I’m not suggesting that Inzamam is guilty of nepotism. Despite Qadir’s claims, there is no proof of it. But when it comes to conflict of interest, none is really required.
A conflict of interest arises when a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. It certainly arises in Inzamam’s case as two of his close relatives including his own son could benefit from the decisions that are made by a committee headed by him.
Roger Binny used to walk away from any discussions that the Indian selection committee would have regarding the selection of his son Stuart, an all-rounder who played six Tests, 14 ODIs and three Twenty20 Internationals for India. But that couldn’t save him from Manohar’s purge. And he was just a member of the selection committee. Inzamam is chairman of the Pakistan’s selection committee. How on earth, can we not see conflict of interest in his case?
And when it comes to conflict of interest, it’s not just Inzamam who needs to answer some tough questions. There are so many other individuals with double jobs in Pakistan cricket. Most of them present similar cases. Mickey Arthur is Pakistan’s coach but when the next edition of the Pakistan Super League will begin next February, he will be donned in Karachi Kings colours and will take over command of the PSL franchise for several weeks.
You cannot have people pointing fingers at your chief selector or head coach each time they take a decision on which player to include and which to omit.
Bringing transparency in Pakistan cricket should be one of Mani’s chief targets. But he is unlikely to succeed in doing that by overlooking thorny issues like the various cases of conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, talented young cricketers like Imam and Ibtasam will either continue to get selected for national duty or will keep knocking at the doors of international cricket. There is a big possibility that either of them will do so on merit. But till the time the final nod regarding their selection comes from Inzamam, there are going to be some people who will point a finger of suspicion at them. It won’t be fair to them and it won’t be fair to Pakistan cricket or millions of fans who follow it. Mani should rethink his play-it-safe approach. What Pakistan cricket needs is bold decisions that are aimed at putting it on the right track. Shying away from them won’t serve any purpose.