YEARS ago, I heard an urban legend about alleged smuggler Seth Abid offering to clear Pakistan’s debt in one week if he was allowed complete control of its trade. Since then, this myth has persisted across Pakistan, with the identity of the notorious offer-maker and the details of the offer varying from one retelling to another. Its popularity and prevalence reveals a central belief held in Pakistani society — that one man can fix everything, if he’s given free rein.
This impulse has manifested itself in our politics repeatedly, from military rulers to populist civilians, and it has always ended disastrously — the great man having overreached and planted the seeds for his own destruction. But, earlier this week, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) enacted a rather extreme version of this recurrent theme.
Former captain Misbahul Haq, it was announced, would assume the unprecedented dual role of national men’s cricket team coach and chief selector. On its own, this decision was already quite radical. It has few precedents within cricket, and even within sports at large. Giving both roles to one person does reduce the risk for tension between the two, which often develops in Pakistani cricket, and gives the coach complete ownership of the process. On the other hand, it is arguably impossible to do both jobs well. The chief selector takes a wide and long view of the nation’s best talents, while a coach focuses on the short- and medium-term development of a core group. It could be argued that Misbah was uniquely equipped to deliver on this dual role. But the inherently flawed process that led to this has the potential to damage the PCB’s credibility.
Can one man fix everything?
To recap, Misbah was initially part of the cricket committee chosen to decide the future of the previous coach. Mickey Arthur was eventually dismissed, and it was decided to start the recruitment process afresh. Crucially, the board didn’t seem to make any effort to headhunt potential talent for this highly specialised and important position. But then, right on the deadline, Misbah applied for the post after stepping down from the committee, citing a conflict of interest. As PCB CEO Wasim Khan later explained, the board approached Misbah and convinced him to apply. In reply, Misbah explained that he was in line to work for a PSL side. Both the previous chief selector Inzamamul Haq and coach Mickey Arthur were also part of PSL teams, and both were later criticised for these conflicts of interest by PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani. In fact, Mani went as far as questioning the governance standards of the previous regime for allowing this situation.
Surprisingly, however, this time the PCB decided to break its own principles and assured Misbah that he could continue to work with a PSL team as well. At this point, as Wasim Khan later explained at a press conference, the board decided that Misbah’s credentials were so solid that they decided to award him the chief selector’s role too, even though the possibility of a dual role hadn’t been publicly considered. He added that this was due to Misbah’s unique set of experience and expertise. However, in the same presser, the CEO explained that the reason the PCB actually wanted Misbah to go ahead with the conflict-of-interest laden PSL gig was because they felt he needed more experience, given he had never coached before.
At this point, it’s hard to understand what’s going on. It appears that Misbah helped fire Mickey, then applied to replace him because the PCB asked him to. The board felt Misbah was so good he should have two jobs, but they also felt he was so inexperienced for one of them that they had to break their own principles to let him take on a third one.
For Misbah, who had long been celebrated for his integrity and sagacity, surely the pitfalls of holding three powerful positions via a seemingly tainted process should be obvious. The best case is that he genuinely believes he can be objective and do justice to all three, which has a whiff of hubris. Worst case, he doesn’t care.
But the bigger issue is with the PCB’s new chairman and CEO, two men with celebrated global experience within the game. The least you’d expect from them was an adherence to good policies and procedures, and a preference for institutional stability over individual idolatry. Instead, they’ve set a troubling precedent that is vulnerable to abuse. Even if Misbah’s reign proves to be a huge success, the consequences of this move would be truly felt afterwards. In the future, anyone can justify usurping a lot of power, even without experience, by citing Misbah’s precedence.
As noted above, Pakistan already has a lot of experience with this experiment, and they’ve all turned out the same way. What could have been a bold, radical new approach has been fatally undermined by the same old rule-flouting, process-ignorant habits that have forever plagued us.
The writer is a freelance columnist and has previously worked with ESPNcricinfo, Islamabad United and the PSL.
Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2019