PCB, not Babar, should take the heat for Pakistan’s World Cup debacle

‘What exactly is going on with the PCB?’ is one question we should all ask.
Published November 16, 2023

The lacklustre performance that we saw during Pakistan’s World Cup campaign has sent the ‘bleed green’ fanbase into an abyss, akin to the Green Shirts’ unceremonious exit in 2015’s World Cup.

A team reshuffle and ‘where we go from here’ promises are always a typical approach to failed tournaments, but as a fan, I am fed up with how the players take the flak but never the cricket board.

Yesterday, top-order batter Babar Azam announced that he had stepped down as the Pakistan cricket captain in all formats. Babar didn’t mention a specific reason for his decision but it comes on the heels of the team’s disastrous run in the ICC World Cup in India.

The poor performances have been deconstructed and dissected ad nauseam over the past few weeks. There is no need for another play-by-play of how badly the Green Shirts performed in the World Cup.

But what is needed is to pin some of the blame on the PCB. While the team shoulders the responsibility for its performance in the World Cup, the PCB is not blameless and has played the biggest part in our failure in the event.

Pakistan have already announced replacements for Babar in the Test and T20 side, with Shan Masood as the captain for the red ball and Shaheen Shah Afridi to lead the side in the shortest format of the game. There are no questions regarding Shaheen’s ability to lead the T20 side having won two back-to-back PSL trophies with Lahore Qalandar. But a complete upheaval every four years cannot be the answer to Pakistan’s problem.

 PCB chief Zaka Ashraf (L) shakes hands with Babar Azam during a meeting at the PCB headquarters in Lahore.—AFP /PCB
PCB chief Zaka Ashraf (L) shakes hands with Babar Azam during a meeting at the PCB headquarters in Lahore.—AFP /PCB

It also appears that the PCB has lost its faith in the coaching staff. It announced yesterday that the portfolio of the entire coaching staff would be changed, which is a knee-jerk reaction and another attempt at deflecting responsibility. How can a string of losses from a team that was number one in ODI rankings a little over two months ago merit a complete upheaval of the backroom staff?

Babar’s exit as the captain, while not surprising, raises several important questions — including the crucial question of who will lead the ODI team — and necessitates careful reflection from the PCB.

But instead of introspection, the PCB once again it seems, has pinned the responsibility for what can only be called an utter failure to behave professionally — during a World Cup — with their captain, while trying to sweep its own obvious failures under the rug.

The fact is that the PCB has seen three chiefs — Ramiz Raja, Najam Sethi, and Zaka Ashraf — during the past couple of years. The country’s richest sports body has lacked continuous and proper management as the country’s prime minister holds the reins of the cricketing administration. Drastic transformations in the domestic structure by various PCB regimes since 2019 have kept Pakistan cricket topsy-turvy. PCB’s conduct prior to the World Cup was a good sign for the nation as the board looked ready to back the national team. But its internal politics have very clearly hindered the team’s performance in the World Cup.

Let us look at how PCB themselves have performed during the World Cup.

What exactly is going on with the PCB?

This is one question that we should all ask. The board had backed Babar as skipper since April but suddenly looked to cut its losses when things began taking a turn for the worse. After Pakistan’s three consecutive losses in the World Cup, the PCB issued a very questionably timed press release. When the team was already under pressure, why did the board feel it important to say that Babar and then-chief selector Inzamamul Haq were “given freedom and support” in forming the squad for the World Cup? They should be given “freedom and support” to pick the team but it is a stretch to imply that they alone are responsible for what happens on the field.

Also, the PCB said that it would make decisions in the best interest of Pakistan cricket going forward. Shouldn’t that have always been the board’s first priority? It’s not exactly unheard of for a sports board to make decisions for the betterment of the sport it represents.

Let’s return to the PCB’s handling of controversies which occurred during the World Cup. Inzamam stepped down as chief selector after media reports claimed he had a stake in a player’s management company registered with the PCB. The whole fiasco took place when Pakistan were still in the fight for the last semi-final spot. As Inzamam himself pointed out, the allegations against him could have been investigated after the tournament.

At the same time, Babar’s private WhatsApp conversations were leaked on television, in a gross violation of the batter’s privacy. According to the host of the talk show, the PCB chief Zaka Ashraf himself allegedly gave permission to display the messages. Logically, the board should have come out and defended a player’s right to privacy. But we have the PCB chief himself giving permission to violate a player’s privacy.

So my question now is: after Babar Azam — one of Pakistan’s greatest-ever batters — stepped down as captain, will Zaka Ashraf consider following suit?