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Is PCB heading towards a hostile takeover?

A third party might take control of the Board if the legal tussle between Najam Sethi and Zaka Ashraf continues unabated

Is PCB heading towards a hostile takeover?

Are we headed for a judicial law in PCB? I don’t see the day very far when the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Islamabad High Court will deem it unmanageable by the numerous petitioners and send the black coats marching to Ferozepur Road. Scenes of lawyers scaling the gates of Gaddafi Stadium may well make global headlines.

Thereafter, we can expect a broadcast where we are told by a judge that “cricket has hit rock bottom.” And that the judges are sick and tired of being drawn into this scenario and pitted against each other, even if it’s purely unintentional.

Scary? But then we have had judges who have headed PCB in the past. The most famous of them was Justice Cornelius, a fine man indeed and a very successful administrator. He actually was the first to bring in the ad-hoc concept in the mid ‘50s. Cornelius played for the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Club and Bagh-e-Jinnah was their home ground. He was one of the three original vice-presidents of then Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (now PCB) and served till 1953. In September 1960 President Ayub Khan brought him back as Chairman of the first Ad Hoc Committee, with a mandate to run Pakistan cricket until May 1963. Among his initiatives was to form Pakistan Eaglets though some say the idea came from the late Omar Kureshi, who was then in the PIA senior management.

Then there was Justice Nasim Hasan Shah, another brilliant man, who stood tall in the field of law. He headed the Board across two years in the early 90’s. Justice Nasim oversaw the sacking of Javed Miandad after Pakistan returned from an ODI tour of Australia despite leading Pakistan to a series win in England earlier in the summer of 1992. He was also there when indiscipline rocked the team and four Pakistani players were arrested for smoking marijuana, something they denied and the tour almost got called off. Eventually the revolt against Wasim Akram’s captaincy also came under him.

If I recall correctly it was during his tenure that the Board placed an ad hoc committee to look after the Karachi City Cricket Association (KCCA) after suspending its affiliation with the board. He may have had the longest tenure as judge in the history of the sub-continent (26 years) but he was soon removed by President Leghari when he confessed in a TV interview that he had been pressurised to reject the appeal of former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (he had been one of the judges that heard that case in the late 1970s).

So having a judge come in is not necessarily a good thing no matter how brilliant he may be in his profession and barring the odd mistake, someone who is sincere to Pakistan; especially in these times when the perception of the courts in the minds of the people is foggy, considering they keep overruling each other.

Ehsan Mani and Arif Abbasi

Ehsan Mani and Arif Abbasi

Don’t write off Hamza Sharif taking over as a consensus candidate. He’s already been marketed as the brains behind the Punjab Sports Festival and other such activities. Not too left field an option for me. I doubt anyone will be going to court, especially if the governing board is told to get him elected.

In fact on the day after, Najam Sethi looked almost tired of it all despite being reinstated. His walk away from the questions outside the court building showed that he was fed up with the whole situation. Zaka Ashraf has been the steadier one, perhaps because he has displayed less enthusiasm for the post, not even pursuing it as he was reinstated on the court orders instead of lobbying for it.

Considering Zaka had also moved slowly when he was reinstated for the second time by appointing mainly Aamer Sohail over the course of a few days in power, this time he brought in the most amazing ace out of his sleeve. Just what Arif Ali Abbasi was doing next to him as Chief Consultant, floored me.

Let me say I have the utmost respect for Arif Abbasi as a man who gives respect and who has been a shrewd administrator, credited along with Jagmohan Dalmiya of India of breaking up the arm lock of Australia and England over the ICC. He pulled the World Cup rights away from England in 1987 to Pakistan and India and again successfully co-hosted the 1996 world cup on our soil. Let me tell you India in 1987 was not the power it is today and Pakistan was that it isn’t today. In 1996 again we were at par with each other. How far we have slipped is due to how horribly we have handled relationships with other boards after that golden period.

But the reason I am surprised is that Arif Abbasi has been a staunch antagonist of long term ad-hocism in cricket, and was critical of the procedure for elections that brought Zaka Ashraf in as an elected Chairman. I can only assume he has decided to come in with whom he believes has a more credible reason to head PCB, though that is disputable. This is not to say that I endorse presidential or prime ministerial nominated heads, but that both appointments have grounds to be questioned.

From France has risen the voice of another ambitious cricket administrator who has since years openly expressed his desire to head the PCB. Ehsan Mani, who for two years in the 1990s headed the ICC on Pakistan’s seat and was nominated by none other than Arif Abbasi, has officially stated that Sethi had no influence in the allotment of TV rights for the two series last year.

It is interesting that Mani has spoken up so frankly and candidly at this point in time. Is it that he is gaining goodwill with Sethi for the position of CEO in the near future, considering the powers of Chairman PCB have been recommended for dilution in the new constitution?

Both Najam Sethi and Zaka want as their lieutenant a more aggressive man who can hold the fort during the musical chairs round, or prevent a coup while they are travelling. What the two chairmanship claimants don’t realise is that these two are close friends, thorough professionals, intelligent, well connected, respected and brilliant in building and sustaining relationships. Co-Chairman and Co-CEO structure is always an option in the corporate world, and has been successful in transitional phases or mergers till the company settles down. Zaka and Sethi may think they’re covering their flanks but unwittingly, they may be — or being led into— preparing their own replacements in the not too distant future. Win-Win for both the courts and the PM.

Sohaib Alvi

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