The mad, mad, mad world of the PCB
The Sethi-Ashraf duel seems more like some insane ping-pong match instead of cricket
The ongoing tug of war in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) over the chairman’s post has not only made the country’s cricketing affairs a laughing stock, it has threatened to ruin the future of the game and its players, who seem to have been held hostage in the nasty saga.
The ugly tussle between former banker Zaka Ashraf and political analyst/ former interim CM/ journalist Najam Sethi has seen them taking turns as PCB chiefs no less than six times in just under a year, thanks to petitions and counter-petitions being entertained by the Islamabad High Court, which has taken centre-stage as the main battle-ground for all the legal rigmarole witnessed in the PCB thus far.
Like many of their predecessors in the cricket board, the two technocrats — Sethi and Ashraf — are also hand-picked men rather than being elected individuals, who know little or nothing about the game and its administrative intricacies. While Sethi was chosen one fine morning by the incumbent Premier Nawaz Sharif to run the PCB affairs, Ashraf, too, before him was picked out of the blue by former President Asif Ali Zardari to head the cricket board almost two years ago.
Unfortunately, none of the two men have shown the wisdom or sanity to abdicate the hot seat in the other’s favour and have, in fact, looked hell bent upon running the show and, of course, ruining it.
While the PCB row simmers, there’s a lot at stake in Pakistan cricket which has been grappling with a number of serious issues already, none more crucial than the lack of international cricket at home following that harrowing terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009.
None of the foreign teams have agreed to visit Pakistan since 2009 and the scenario is no better today even after the passage of five long years. While both Sethi and Ashraf have made tall claims about fruitful discussion being held with teams for playing in Pakistan, they have not managed to pull off anything substantial, focusing their energies instead on being at each other’s throat.
Like many of their predecessors in the cricket board, the two technocrats — Sethi and Ashraf — are also hand-picked men rather than being elected individuals, who know little or nothing about the game and its administrative intricacies.
It is, indeed, a matter of poor governance that Pakistan, despite being a major international cricketing nation, has only a couple of series at hand which are to be played at the neutral venues of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE in the next 12 months or so. While countries like India, England, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka have their hands full with international cricket assignments for the next five years, our players are left to twiddle their thumbs and nervously ponder about their careers while Sethi and Ashraf provide all the action in the middle.
As has been the case in Pakistan, the numerous appointments made by the two PCB heads in their hurricane stints at the top have been rendered null and void by the court decisions, throwing the game into a deep quagmire. Thanks to the Sethi-Ashraf duel, there is a new captain, a new set of coaches, selectors, consultants and advisors in place every few weeks in a situation that borders on the absurd.
There’s hardly a former player or official in the country who has not being given a tour of the plush PCB offices at the Gaddafi Stadium in the past seven months, only to be shown the door the following week. That includes illustrious names like Moin Khan, Rashid Latif, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Intikhab Alam, Wasim Bari, Iqbal Qasim, Aamir Sohail, Shahid Afridi, Mushtaq Ahmed, Inzimam-ul-Haq and even lesser mortals like Mohammad Ilyas, Haroon Rasheed, Mohammad Akram, Azhar Khan, Saleem Jaffer, Basit Ali, Wajahatullah Wasti, Ali Naqvi and others who have tasted authority and power spanning from 24 hours to 24 days under either Sethi’s regime or Ashraf’s.
Some privileged ones like Intikhab, Miandad and Haroon have enjoyed much longer innings, reaping the benefits of the chaos prevailing at the top during the past decade or so.
Mike Selvey, the former England pacer and celebrated cricket writer at The Guardian recently wrote about Pakistan: “The number of controversies that Pakistan cricket is currently attracting is truly appalling. While there is little action on the field owing to security reasons, there’s never a dull moment in the corridors of the PCB where so many protagonists are taking turns to perform their act. Several skippers, a bevy of coaches, managers, etc., are in the fray. And yet, they provide only a glimpse. The two main characters, however, remain a constant; Najam Sethi and Zaka Ashraf who are both, apparently, aspiring to be legends.”
The repercussions of the Sethi-Ashraf row are many. While on the domestic front key issues such as reorganisation of domestic cricket, central contracts of players, appointment of officials, reforms in the PCB Constitution are awaiting urgent attention, internationally the conflict at PCB is making it vulnerable to the wrath of the ICC, the governing body of the game. The ICC, of course, is sensing massive political interference in Pakistan cricket which is causing it deep concern and could lead to imposition of a Zimbabwe-like penalty on Pakistan which is tantamount to a few years of exile from international cricket.
Also, the ever-changing stance of PCB on the thorny issue of the Big Three is becoming a nightmare of sorts for the ICC. On the one hand, Sethi is over-eager to please the Big Three, especially India, and has been quick to sign a couple of MoUs with the BCCI regarding bilateral series, on the other Ashraf has repeatedly voiced his displeasure at the triumvirate’s blatant plans to dominate world cricket which obviously has irked the ICC.
There are other important aspects such as negotiating future series with fellow cricket boards that has not really happened on a consistent basis as most foreign team officials have been clueless about the status and authority of a PCB chairman who is unlikely to remain in his seat after just a few weeks.
“The situation is worse than ever before in the Board and most of us [players] are unsure about who we play next or whether our financial contracts will be honoured by the incoming PCB chief,” says a talented middle-order batsman of the national team who wishes to remain anonymous. “In fact, the situation is so bad that we don’t even know who our next captain or coach will be. This Sethi-Ashraf row is really hurting Pakistan cricket.”
One glaring example of how the prevalent chaos is affecting Pakistan cricket can be seen at the month-long conditioning camp set up in Lahore these days. While Chief-selector-cum-manager Moin Khan and his team of selectors along with recently appointed head coach Waqar Younis were overseeing the 30-player regimen at the camp, they suddenly vanished into thin air the moment the IHC reinstated Zaka Ashraf as PCB chief. “There is no one here today to tell us what we do next in the camp and who will be holding the team meetings,” remarks a senior all-rounder taking part at the camp. “They are all gone with the wind and with Sethi, and we are told that a new set of officials will be taking charge in a day or two. How can you expect the players’ morale and confidence to improve in such circumstances when the captain of the ship himself is not sure about his status?”
The Pakistan cricket fans too loathe the battle of egos between Sethi and Ashraf and are left disillusioned by the shambolic state of the game and PCB. “I don’t want to watch cricket anymore, especially with greedy and incompetent people like Sethi and Ashraf at the helm,” says Shakeel Rizwan, an avid fan of Pakistan team who has followed the game for over four decades now. “How do you expect Misbah-ul-Haq or Mohammad Hafeez or Shahid Afridi to give their best on the field when their bosses are fighting among themselves like this?” questions Shakeel. “The players perform better only when they are fit, calm and composed, but I feel men like Sethi and Ashraf are too engrossed with their own thing to look at the team’s welfare. God help Pakistan cricket!”
The writer is Dawn’s sports editor.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 25th, 2014