Seismic shifts rock PCB amid shaky World Cup campaign

Published October 31, 2023
Inzamam-ul-Haq addresses a press conference. — DawnNewsTV/File
Inzamam-ul-Haq addresses a press conference. — DawnNewsTV/File

• Inzamam steps down after ‘conflict of interest’ allegations emerge
• TV anchor under fire for displaying WhatsApp chat with Babar without consent

THE turmoil continues back home; its aftershocks threatening to further derail Pakistan’s campaign at the World Cup in India. It’s an unwelcome distraction that could’ve been put off, at least until Babar Azam’s men were well and truly out of the race for the semis.

But that’s Pakistan cricket for you: a place where things unravel fast. This time, a lot has happened in the space of just over 48 hours, culminating in the resignation of chief selector Inzamamul Haq on Monday, on the eve of yet another must-win game for Pakistan against Bangladesh in Kolkata.

So when Pakistan take the field at Eden Gardens, looking to keep alive their faint hopes of reaching the last four, they will be essentially be doing so with the man who selected them no longer at the helm; the man who, alongside captain Babar, was named as being responsible for the team’s faltering World Cup campaign.

Inzamam’s resignation, however, doesn’t have to do with the team’s performance. Instead, it’s because of a potential conflict of interest due to his role in a company that represents many of the players who are playing at the World Cup.

Issues over team selection had been raised prior to the showpiece tournament, only for the debate to intensify once Pakistan embarked on a run of four straight losses for the first time in the history of cricket’s showpiece event.

Following the defeat to South Africa on Friday, reports began emanating that Inzamam was one of four directors at Yazoo International Ltd, a company registered in the United Kingdom, which set off alarm bells.

Pakistan wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan is also named as one of the directors, but the tipping point came with the name of Talha Rehmani, the managing director of Saya Corporation, which claims on its company website to represent “70pc of the Pakistan National Team including the top-ranked athletes” like Babar, Rizwan and pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi.

That Inzamam’s brother Inti­sa­rul Haq is the company secretary and has close ties in the player agency — with favouritism being alleged in the team’s selection from various quarters — prompted Pakistan Cricket Board interim chairman Zaka Ashraf to pledge during a television programme on Sunday that an inquiry would be conducted into those allegations.

On Monday, this was made official, with the PCB announcing that it had set up a “five-member committee to investigate allegations in respect to conflict of interest… pertaining to the team selection process.”

Soon afterwards, Inzamam appeared at a news conference in Lahore, tendering his resignation but vowing to return if he’s cleared in the investigation. Over in Kolkata, the team had just finished their practice session when that news began filtering in.

Perhaps, it was the last act of the ongoing circus that has been played out before the world.

Question about consent

The same network that aired the PCB chief’s interview was also involved in a rather distasteful episode on Sunday night.

On the state broadcaster a few days earlier, former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif had made some claims regarding discord between Babar Azam and Zaka Ashraf. Rashid had alleged that Babar’s calls to Zaka from India had gone unanswered.

During his interview over the weekend, Zaka rebutted that claim, saying that Babar wouldn’t message him directly, but if the captain had any concerns, PCB’s Chief Operating Officer Salman Naseer was best-placed to handle them.

Back in the live broadcast, a screenshot of Babar’s alleged message to Naseer was displayed where the captain was asked about reports in the media regarding his calls to the PCB chief. In the reply, ‘Babar Azam New’ said he hadn’t made any calls.

As soon as the screenshot was shown, former Pakistan captain Azhar Ali — part of the panel on the broadcast — questioned whether consent had been obtained from Babar or the person who’d sent the screenshot.

Condemnation poured in on social media, prompting Waseem Badami — the host of the talk show — to claim it was an error of judgement on their part, before adding that the screenshot had been sent to them Zaka Ashraf, who’d asked for it to put up.

Badami, however, said that it wasn’t an “ideal decision” to air the screenshot and “should not have happened”.

It was the sort of move that smacks of amateurism on part of the PCB chief and his advisers. A simple rebuttal through a press release would’ve sufficed, since the PCB’s media manager Umar Farooq Kalson was telling reporters in Kolkata around the same time that rumours of a Zaka-Babar falling out were untrue.

Whether Zaka had sought Babar’s consent before sending over the screenshot remains unknown.

What is certain, however, is the fact that Pakistan players haven’t been paid for five months due to arguments over pay and delays in agreements over central contracts.

That matter seemed to have been resolved, however, with the PCB saying that contracts have been sent to India, which the players had signed.

On Monday, Pakistan coach Grant Bradburn was also dismissive of the fact that the contract issue had affected the players’ mindset.

“In terms of the noise around the team, look, playing for Pakistan and working within this team is a huge privilege,” Bradburn told reporters in Kolkata.

“To prepare ourselves and give our best are the things that we focus on, the things within our control and there are great expectations and we’re desperate to make our nation proud.”

There are things that should’ve been controlled by the PCB, too. Control, however, seems to have deserted Pakistan cricket, with the team seemingly no longer in charge of its own destiny at the World Cup.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2023

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