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Wise, old man with a plan

Shaharyar Khan knows batting in the second innings is almost always more difficult than the first outing. But in his latest stint as PCB chairman, the ex-diplomat is confident of succeeding where he failed previously

Wise, old man with a plan
— Photo by Suhail Rafiq

It had been a hectic day for Shaharyar M. Khan. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman, on his first visit to Karachi after beginning his second stint at the helm of PCB, carried out a series of meetings and also addressed what was quite an explosive media conference at the National Stadium Friday afternoon.

Our meeting for an interview was lined up for the evening and as I entered his hotel my fears were that I might be interrupting his nap. But just minutes later, Shaharyar entered the room in a sporty outfit that included a bright-coloured ICC T-shirt. I greeted him with a “You look good, sir!” comment and he replied with a beaming smile: “Well, I expect that after a good swim”.

There is a brief chitchat but well aware that Shaharyar has to leave for a few pressing commitments we get down to business almost straightaway. The interview begins with the inevitable question as to what prompted him to accept a role that was snatched away prematurely from him and that too at the ripe old age of 80. We move to the Big Three issue when he tells him how he helped save sub-continent’s bid for the previous edition of the ICC World Cup.

Our conversation gets briefly interrupted by Agha Akbar, the veteran journalist now working as PCB’s media man. After receiving a phone call he tells us that the last-remaining legal hassle for the Board was over after the Islamabad High Court threw out a writ petition against the Board’s new constitution. He informs us that IHC has even fined the four petitioners Rs 1 million each for misguiding the court and concealing facts. “The money will have to be paid directly to PCB,” says Akbar. “It will help us cover our legal costs,” he adds with a smile. Shaharyar nods his head in agreement.

It must have been a great burden off his shoulders. He tells me that he almost didn’t accept the job. “Time and again I would be asked to take over the PCB but I didn’t think I was up to it. But then finally one day the Supreme Court declared that Pakistan cricket had been turned into a mockery and that something needed to be done to fix it. This time, finally when my friend Najam Sethi told me that he is leaving (as PCB chairman) and whether I would be interested I had to say yes to contest the election. I told myself that if I could do anything to fix Pakistan cricket then now was the time.”

From then onwards, we got down to a formal Q/A session. Following are the excerpts.

TNS: Pakistan is one of the various countries marginalised by the so-called Big Three. Do you think that under your command PCB can manage to regain its lost status in world cricket?

Shaharyar Khan: Well, if you consider that there was a time when our stake in international cricket had gone below-zero I would say that at the moment we aren’t in a very bad position. I must praise Najam Sethi here because he is the one who helped us recover from a terrible situation. We were completely isolated and utterly marginalised. But he managed to get us a good deal in the end. Now we are part of the action and would be getting important positions (in the ICC).

“My biggest goal is revamp our domestic cricket. It’s been in a shambles for a long time. We have prepared a blueprint for the development of grassroots cricket and are now looking for sponsors.”

That said, I would add that the power division was always there. In the past, too, India would dictate terms with Australia as its number two. England was ranked a bit lower and then came the other countries. The thing is that the division has become official now. PCB never had any huge clout (in ICC) but we did have goodwill. I still remember that when we were jointly bidding for the World Cup with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh our effort almost went down the drain because of a faulty bid from India. I played some role and even though the joint bid by Australia and New Zealand was much better we were given an extension and later the Indians managed to come out with a better bid and eventually the World Cup was awarded to the sub-continent. I’m confident that Pakistan will continue playing its role and we will make efforts to build bridges and mend fences for the greater interest of the game.

TNS: There are expectations that using your diplomatic experience and goodwill you will help PCB revive Indo-Pak bilateral ties. How confident are you about it?

SK: Reviving cricketing ties with India is an important task but a lot of it will depend on the relations between the two countries. I certainly enjoy goodwill in India and will use it to pave the path for a revival but the issue will eventually be decided on the basis of the overall Indo-Pak relations.

TNS: Do you think that bringing normalcy in Indo-Pak cricketing relations is even a possibility considering the volatile ties between the two nations?

SK: You should understand that since the 2008 Mumbai attacks the general public of India has turned against Pakistan. This wasn’t the case in the past. And the only way we can move forward is by having closure on the Mumbai attack case.

TNS: Do you believe that having a hardliner like Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister would make things worse?

SK: It’s too early to reach any conclusion. He (Modi) began on a positive note by inviting our prime minister for his swearing-in ceremony. We will have to wait and see how things go on in the coming days.

TNS: At the moment, Pakistan does not come across as a team that can win the World Cup next year. What sort of recipe do you have in mind to boost Pakistan’s chances?

SK: I do agree that our team doesn’t look like a winning unit. I mean we don’t have the sort of stars needed to win a major title. Maybe the team is good enough to win a match or two but to play well in seven, eight matches at a stretch in a tournament like the World Cup seems tough, at the moment. Frankly, we don’t have impactful players like Inzamam (ul-Haq) or the fiery Shoaib Akhtar or Saqlain Mushtaq. We might not even have Saeed Ajmal for the World Cup.

I believe that our team needs players who can rise to the occasion. You need them to shine in crisis situations. I will not interfere in team selection but I will provide guidance. I’ve been talking to Misbah (ul-Haq), Waqar (Younis) and Moin Khan. I’ve been telling them to pick people who can fight for the team because we don’t need the ones who would abandon the team in difficult situations. You need boys like Fawad Alam who have the guts to handle crisis situations. Also I believe that playing the boys at the right position is very important. Personally I would expect Sohaib Maqsood to move up the order but they wasted him at No 7 position.

Pakistan cricket team Captain Misbah-ul-Haq (left) with the PCB Chief

Pakistan cricket team Captain Misbah-ul-Haq (left) with the PCB Chief

TNS: Misbah has come under a lot of criticism especially after the disappointing tour of Sri Lanka. But you continue to back him, why?

SK: Take a look at the bigger picture. Misbah has been your most prolific batsman during the last few years. He has mostly done a decent job as captain, too. Yes he had a bad series in Sri Lanka but that happens. I would expect Misbah to grit his teeth and bounce back. But I would also clarify one thing here. We are still discussing this issue. I’ve been to talking to all relevant people and will take a final decision (on captaincy) in a week’s time.

TNS: What are the most important tasks for you as PCB chairman?

SK: My biggest goal is revamp our domestic cricket. It’s been in a shambles for a long time. We have to go to the grassroots and invest in schools, colleges, clubs etc. We have prepared a blueprint for the development of grassroots cricket and are now looking for sponsors. We have discussed the issue with Aman Foundation who are interested and will also go to all top business houses because that is the area from where we can provide a lasting boost to Pakistan cricket.

TNS: There is a general impression that there are lots of politics, intrigues and other such stuff going on in Pakistan cricket both in the field and also in the boardroom. How much of that do you think is true?

SK: Not much. I mean you keep hearing stories about politics and conspiracies but most of it is nonsense. We don’t have many political types in our board anyway. There are a couple of them in our governing board but they are hardly the types who would indulge in politics.

TNS: There is also this impression that PCB is infested with various vested-interest elements and incompetent officials. Do you agree with that?

SK: I don’t agree with that. I’m pretty happy with the team (of officials) in the PCB. Subhan Ahmad (COO) is a terrific, sound person who has great experience. Zakir Khan, I know, has been there for donkey’s years. Previously I was a bit unsure about him but now that I’m back I can see that he has really improved and deals with important matters professionally.

TNS: PCB, overall, is like a ship sinking under its own weight because of an inflated payroll. What are you planning to do about it?

SK: Yes, downsizing is certainly on our agenda but we will have to do in a humane manner. We must cut our coat according to our cloth. We would downsize but there won’t be one sweeping action as we plan to do it gradually.

TNS: In the past PCB had been making tall claims about its plans of successfully launching the so-called Pakistan Super League. But one of the initial decisions you’ve made was to shelf it. Why?

SK: It wasn’t feasible. We received some below-par bids for the league and knew straight away that if we went ahead with it the Board would not be able to achieve its targets. We need it to be a financial success as well as a cricketing success but that can’t happen at the moment. You look around and you’ll see that various other (Twenty20) leagues happening in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or even in the Caribbean are not very successful. The only league that can boast both financial and cricketing success is the IPL (Indian Premier League) but that’s a different story.

TNS: How do you think your second stint is going to be different from you first one as PCB chairman?

SK: In the past PCB chairman would be like a dictator with sweeping powers. But not anymore. The new PCB would be democratic, we will make sure that it is. I plan to have five things given utmost importance in PCB: continuity, transparency, democracy, balance and stability. Without things like continuity, transparency and balance we cannot have progress. I believe my biggest task it to make sure that the board instills all of these much-needed elements.

We had planned for a 40-minute interview but over conversation had already stretched over an hour. But Shaharyar, in his element, didn’t seem to mind. As we were wrapping things up, he assures me that under his watch things in Pakistan cricket will improve. We shook hands and he left, asking me to stay in touch. “I have to be somewhere,” he tells me. It has been a long, tiring day but Shaharyar is looking forward to some more action. His critics might reject him as an octogenarian will little left in him to offer. But at that particular moment, he comes across as just the person that Pakistan cricket needs – a wise, old man with a plan.

“My biggest goal is revamp our domestic cricket. It’s been in a shambles for a long time. We have to go to the grassroots and invest in schools, colleges, clubs etc. We have prepared a blueprint for the development of grassroots cricket and are now looking for sponsors.”

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