When Pakistan’s cricket chiefs met at the Board’s headquarters in Lahore last Friday they were more interested in what was happening inside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad than the agenda of their own meeting. It was hardly surprising as all eyes in the country were transfixed on the happenings in Islamabad on Friday as five Supreme Court judges decided the fate of the Prime Minister.
However, many of the members of the PCB’s Board of Governors present at the meeting were following Nawaz’s case fully aware that its outcome could affect their own positions in the cricket board. Such is the constitution of the PCB that a sitting Prime Minister can handpick the people who run the Board. Nawaz handpicked Shaharyar Khan, the outgoing PCB chairman. Nawaz handpicked Najam Sethi, the man who is supposed to take over from Shaharyar. However, with Nawaz out Sethi’s fate hangs in the balance. The next man who takes over as prime minister might have somebody else in mind for the key position of PCB chairman. If that’s the case then Sethi can kiss his ambitions to be PCB chief goodbye.
It isn’t a very reassuring situation for Pakistan cricket, is it?
I mean, for how long can the Board endure handpicked officials, who are brought out of nowhere on the whims of fancies of whoever is in power. Remember General Tauqir Zia? He was handpicked by General Pervez Musharraf to serve as PCB chairman and was later replaced by Nasim Ashraf. Asif Zardari, when he came to power, brought his friend Zaka Ashraf to head the Board. When Nawaz Sharif came to power, he handed the coveted position to Sethi and later to Shaharyar.
Such appointees know that till the time their boss is in power they can do whatever they want. The wish of the chairman is any PCB official’s command. Ask Subhan Ahmed, the man who has been around in the PCB for a few decades, and he will tell you all about it.
Over the years, the post of PCB chairman has attained too much authority. The chairman has the power to hire and fire people working for the Board. He has the authority to make or break development plans. He has the authority to appoint captains, coaches, selectors. He has the authority to oversee financial deals. And all that authority comes with zero accountability. If the team loses, it’s somebody else’s fault. If the team wins, you have to laud the chairman’s role.
Of course, there is the Board of Governors. It does sound like a powerful body. But in reality, it is little more than a rubber-stamp. It is filled with cronies and vested-interest elements with little say in key matters.
But if the cricket board is in a shambles then how can our team win a major international tournament like the ICC Champions Trophy? Well, the national team won the title not because of the PCB but despite it. There certainly were some good decisions like installing Sarfraz Ahmed as the captain but frankly it was a no-brainer. Sarfraz should have succeeded Afridi as ODI captain but instead the Board first tried Azhar Ali and then opted for the stumper when it was obvious that he was its only choice.
Some will mention the Pakistan Super League (PSL). It certainly was a big step forward, launching the T20 league. However, I still maintain that the PCB can only count it as a major success once a full PSL edition takes place on home soil. After all, any good event management company with sufficient finances and ample backing from a cricket board can deliver a T20 league at venues like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The difficult part is to bring it home. And by bringing it home I don’t mean having just the final match in a heavily fortified venue.
I’m sure that the people in power will disagree. And the people surrounding those people in power will disagree more. I’m also sure that despite a change in the country’s political landscape following Nawaz’s exit, there won’t be much change in how the PCB top-brass is formed. There won’t be much change in how that top-brass runs the board. It might not also make a difference whether Sethi is able to cling to power in the aftermath of Friday’s verdict or is replaced by some other hand-picked appointee by the next PM.
The only way to enforce any meaningful change in Pakistan cricket is by rebooting the system. With the system I don’t mean rebooting the domestic structure. That, we do every year and without much success. What we need is to change the way we select people to run the Board. We need to rethink the sweeping powers such people get once chosen to head the Board. The problem is that it is not up to us to do any thinking or rethinking. It’s up to the people in power. It is up to whoever is Prime Minister of Pakistan or the people surrounding him.
But why is the PM burdened with the responsibility of overseeing the running of Pakistan cricket? Doesn’t he have more important stuff to oversee? Won’t Pakistan cricket be better off if the top PCB officials are appointed through a more transparent process? Such questions have been asked in the past. And they will continue to be asked. Whether we will ever be able to get a proper answer is a different story.