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View from US: Let’s talk cricket

July 07, 2013

The best hope for cricket is to control the patron. He is the problem, not the chairman he cherry picks. Unlucky for cricket, the patron of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is always the country’s chief executive. His moment of reckoning is now: he must know that the election of the chairman can no longer be a selection as happened in the past. The election has to be transparent. The first-ever ‘election’ for chairmanship of cricket board, held two months ago was phony because the incumbent Zaka Ashraf was declared the winner. Kudos to the judge at the Islamabad High Court who suspended Zaka Ashraf from “exercising his power within his incumbency” due to a “dubious” and “polluted” election process.

The court has set a healthy precedent by sending Zaka Ashraf home? Will it continue to tell the patron (whoever he be) in future to back off if he tries to obstruct the electoral system? Ideally, the PCB patron should be a mere figurehead who is invited to cut the red tape at cricketing events or sit in the VVIP box to enjoy a cricket match and later host a reception for the players at his official palace.

Notice the club of stereotypes picked to head the board by its patrons from Zia, Benazir, Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf to Zardari. The past chairmen, both civilian and retired generals, were more politicians, control freaks and wheeler-dealers than cricket aficionados hungry to wrest world fame and laurels for their team. They were hungry all right, but their hunger was for money, undiluted power and free junkets for self and family.

When Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister, Zaka Ashraf’s slot as chairman PCB was a given. In fact he may have even bagged another four-year-term. His job was secure because of family ties with the country’s chief executive. He’s the brother of N-League parliamentarian Begum Ishrat Ashraf who is the wife of Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal and mother of Zab Jaffar, two biggies in Nawaz League.

Sorry to load you with Zaka family tree, but in Pakistan, family connections more than merit take you places you have not dreamt of. For general information of the public, do please remember that the rich, privileged and powerful families have their fingers in every political pie. Banker and agriculturist Zaka got chosen because he was Zardari’s best friend, well sort of. Politics is sickly incestuous.

With Zaka’s exit, enter media celebrity and our Man Friday Najam Sethi. Nawaz Sharif appointed him to lead cricket to glory. Objections, protests and disapproval swiftly followed.

“That Sethi has been ill-at-ease in the new role is evident from his admission of being a little lost with the rather large PCB empire — more than 900 employees weighing down the Titanic, and whose departmental heads notoriously work at cross purposes,” writes Kamran Rehmat in this newspaper.

Some opposition MNAs joined in the naysayers’ chorus openly accusing the prime minister of appointing “favourites” to key positions.

Sethi may call it a day before the courts tell him to quit as cases against his appointment are already in the docket. “After initially pledging to sort out the mess at the PCB and pleading for time, Sethi is now vowing to vacate the ‘temporary’ slot once he is through with the ICC conference, approving the team for the tour to the West Indies and conducting the election of a full-time chairman” says Rehmat.

Finding the real McCoy — the real deal, not a substitute, to head PCB is hardly a big deal. Or is it?

Let me walk you — as I’ve often done — to the summer of 1954. Punjab Governor Mian Aminuddin was the ex-officio chairman of Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) as it was called then. Merit, skill and excellence formed his criteria for putting together a winning team that was to tour England. The strategy paid off.

Pakistan won its first-ever Test match against England. It made history since no country had ever before won a Test in their first rubber in England! According to Wisden, the unique cricket archive, which dates back to 1864, “In the cricket history of Pakistan the date, Tuesday, August 17, will live long. On that day at Oval, Pakistan became the only side to win a Test match on a first visit to England.”

As a kid who was present at Oval, I remember well the excitement in the air. “Oh Johnny, can you do it?” screamed the tabloids on the last day of the match. Earlier, England was bowled in the last innings at surprising speed by Fazal Mahmood who demolished ace batsmen like Len Hutton, Dennis Compton, Graveny and Peter May. When the last day dawned, the only chance the British had was Johnny Wardle, an English spinner who would often surprise spectators with a spectacular tail-end knock. He was England’s only hope to save their team.

The English could not believe that they were facing a humiliating defeat. The “Babes” as the Pakistani team was known since we had been independent only seven years as a country, was on its way to an ‘upset victory.’ Not only was Oval decisive as a Test match where the former colony (Pakistan) would thrash the Brits on their home turf, but now this former colony was going to draw a Test series and deprive England of what everybody thought was going to be a “cakewalk.”

I wonder how many people know this fact, but had Wazir Mohammad been dropped from the final eleven at the Oval, Pakistan may not have won the Test. I have it from primary sources. skipper Kardar wanted Wazir dropped but the manager and assistant manager prevailed upon Kardar to include Wazir. He scored an unbeaten 43.

It’s not just a bowler or a batsman or a skipper who take the team to victory. It’s the whole, total, complete contribution of the team beginning from the manager, selectors, and coach down to each and every player. Leading the brigade is the chairman of cricket board. The chief’s credentials are what matter the most. He has to be familiar with cricket if not a former cricketer himself; he has to be a down-to-earth chap who carries no officious airs of superiority about him; he has to be passionate, enthused, zealous and even obsessive about inspiring his team members to shoot for the stars.

Did I mention that he has to be fit in body and mind, unbiased and unapproachable towards VVIPs’ intimidation or favours? He must stand his ground, fearless and frank to those seeking undue advantage from him. Above all he has to provide a level playing field to the players, shunning favouritism and cronyism (two malignancies that have driven PCB into a comatose condition).

How would you rate the following present and former cricket chiefs. Do these gentlemen carry the gold standards defined above for the chairmanship? Savvy journalist Najam Sethi, hotshot banker Zaka Ashraf, unfit portly curmudgeon Ejaz Butt, sneaky kidney doctor Nasim Ashraf, suave former diplomat Shaharyar Khan, military ops expert Lt. General Tauqir Zia, wheeler dealer BMW cars importer Mujeebur Rahman and former chief justice of Pakistan Nasim Hassan Shah.