Did the PCB see it coming? Perhaps they did; only it was too late by the time they began to realise they had slept over the threat. In last week’s interview in this newspaper, Shaharyar Khan, had let it slip while playing down Pakistan’s chances: “. . . We might not even have Saeed Ajmal for the World Cup.”
That was about five days before the news came in that Ajmal had been banned. At the time he went in for the tests no one expected that his whole lot would come out illegal; just his doosra would be curtailed perhaps, people thought. But by the time of the interview the PCB chairman just may have been asked to prepare for the worst, maybe via the PCB doctor who had accompanied Ajmal to the Australia lab. And, therefore, the slip of tongue.
To be fair to Shaharyar it is not his fault at all that we have lost our prized asset, at least for now. He came in once the man had come into ICC sights and been called for suspicion. But the fact that he announced almost immediately that the PCB would appeal against the ban and then retracted it shows the PCB had not discussed the post-verdict scenario in advance.
The chairman perhaps had no inkling that if they lost the appeal, Ajmal would be banned for a year without being given the opportunity to adjust his bowling action. Hence the pull back. Or perhaps the afterthought to let it come via the Illegal Bowling Action Committee.
This is what happens when a chairman who has had no connection with cricket rules, regulations and terms of reference is given the responsibility; and is advised by inept people who have a history of messing up issues.
I’m also surprised that despite being a career diplomat he gave a highly irresponsible and suicidal statement that about 35 bowlers in Pakistan’s domestic cricket had suspect actions. That casts additional doubt on Pakistan as a cricket-competent country and justifies any bias the ICC may have against it. In effect, the PCB has already laid the groundwork for further assaults on our bowlers. A more astute man would not have made this faux pas.
The question also arises whether Shaharyar should allow his domestic cricket committee to live with a certain self respect; whether they deserve it or not is another question. It was a few weeks back when the committee announced a new (yes another new) domestic cricket schedule for this season with the intent to resurrect the much-maligned domestic cricket format of previous years (which mostly the same people put together).
Within a week of taking over from Najam Sethi who oversaw the revamp, Shaharyar has in effect stated that the system is in ruins! How he has arrived at this decision in a day or two, and why he believes he understands the issue better than those who have been running it for the past few years, one is at a loss to understand. But it is quite a slap on the members of the committee. There is also his misplaced mission of developing cricket at school level. That I’m afraid does not come under the purview of the PCB, should he know the legal standing of the organisation and its constitution, which apparently he does not.
Shaharyar also doesn’t understand the dynamics of the Pakistani school system. His recall of a school is of princely Bhopalian, Atchisonian and Oxbridge architecture; in contrast almost all schools in Pakistan today have no cricket grounds of their own while most amenity plots have given way to malls and apartment complexes; so leasing outside is not an option.
And does a PCB executive team that has to fix and re-fix its self-designed first class system every year has the wherewithal to go to the grassroots level? This to me reeks of political statements of the sort he gave back in 2003 when he came in with similar aplomb and left three years later absolutely befuddled.
Shaharyar should also realise that there are not enough hours in a day. Where is he going to find time and resources to sit down with school owners who have no concept of a qualified sports coach in their private schools! As for government schools, they don’t have blackboards, chairs and desks. Where are they going to fetch cricket gear from?
I strongly recommend he concentrate on the bigger picture as a CEO should. The Ajmal affair is going to be a testing time for the incumbent (sad state of affairs when you have to call an 80-year-old as such). Shaharyar must tread with care. He is already distracted, perhaps conscious that he is being dubbed a pansy to the three committees headed by powerful names. He was at pains to say in a media meet that he was the final authority. Any chairman who has to proclaim that is already on weak footing.
Alas, the one challenge I had hoped he would take with confidence and where he stands qualified to do, he has already watered down. That is the resumption of cricket with India. He was the mastermind and the force behind the revival of Indo-Pak cricket in 2004 within weeks of taking charge; and it was out of nowhere really that he conjured up the series not once but twice in two years. Both were brilliantly organised and had bonhomie both on and off the field, which brought the two nations together on a cricket field like never before I would say.
But for him to say that it is unlikely pending the closure of the Mumbai attack of 2008 is as good as saying that it won’t happen, given the stand the two countries have taken on that event. I hope he revisits that statement soon. Maybe he’s being clever about it knowing that it will happen and wants to take the credit for when it does after having said it is improbable. Otherwise the credit would have gone to Sethi, who, among his last acts, had announced after the ICC meeting in Melbourne that six Indo Pak series have been signed on, pending approval by the Indian foreign ministry.