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View from US: Dictators die, cricket lives

October 30, 2011

Gaddafi is dead; long live the Lahore cricket stadium. Let’s speak in the language that the new Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Zaka Ashraf understands. Darn, he’s a banker from and agricultural development bank! Hopefully, he must know about ‘gold standard’ rules just as the Musharraf-appointed kidney doctor knew about dialysis. Except, Nasim Ashraf perfected this technique on the PCB thinking it could outlast his misrule. It nearly collapsed.

Enter burly Butt. Our hopes rose. Cricket will endure with the former test cricketer performing, we thought. Instead, Butt trampled all over it, sending the PCB to its deathbed. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a John le Carré thriller. Our thriller, so far has had Doctor, Cricketer, Banker, Soldier, Diplomat, Jailbird but no Spy! Who knows, the next man handling the PCB is a spy! That should put us in le Carré’s league.

While we await our spy, here are some gold standard rules Zaka Ashraf must apply if he’s at all serious about success: Rule no. 1: Change, destroy, erase, and delete the name ‘Gaddafi’ from the stadium, stationery and everything sundry. Rule no. 2: Never name a stadium after a human being, even if some suggest the name of a long gone cricketer (a certain captain alias ‘skipper’). Rule no. 3: the brown-nosed bunch left behind by Ejaz Butt needs drowning.

Had our president carefully listened to specialists dismissing Ejaz Butt’s grizzly performance, bye-bye Butt would have taken place much earlier. But the guy stuck like gum to his chair even after he had completed his three-year term while the presidency slept. Rule no. 4 is to implement the advice experts forward instead of dismissing it. While he was the Pakistan editor for Cricinfo, Osman Samiuddin wrote exactly a year ago advising, “Get rid of Ijaz Butt; take away some of the chairman's powers and spread them around; hire a CEO answerable to the governing body, and bring in more prominent former cricketers.”

What prompted Samiuddin’s frontal attack on Butt? “In plain words it stems from the chairman and how he is appointed. He is thrust upon the game by the country's president, the patron of the board, and is answerable to him and appointable and sackable only by him.”

The curse travels down to the appointments below the chairman. Men without merit, wrote Samiuddin, get chosen on basis of nepotism. “The organisation becomes bloated, inefficient, potentially corrupt and eventually of great harm to its own purpose.” So rule no. 5 for Zaka Ashraf is to politely but firmly tell the president and his men to lay off cricket and go amuse themselves with some other sport like kabadi for a change. It needs a brave heart to do that and a cleaner conscience to work for cricket and not individuals starting from the president. Zaka Ashraf should be prepared to get sacked if he does what we all expect of him – to follow the rules.

Well over half a century ago, there lived a cricketing legend by the name of Dr Dilawar Hussain. His masterly game was often recalled with respect at our home. Zakauddin, the son of the late test cricketer lives in the US. I asked Zaka to share his views on the cricket board today. Here’s what he wrote: “Once it was headed by an authoritative, educated and incorruptible person, assisted by a selection committee comprising academically high-achieving, highly placed former test cricketers and cricket enthusiasts. Later, it fell into the hands of individuals, many of whom were less educated, less civil, much less cultured, corruptible, politically appointed and petty in their behaviour.

“Nonetheless, cricket thrived because of increased worldwide competition and higher monetary stakes and the bold on-the-field leadership of Imran Khan. Majid Khan, a test cricketer and an English county professional, son of the great Jahangir Khan, was perhaps the last of the “Gentlemen Cricketers”, a person of integrity and experience, to serve as the PCB President. There were millions in the PCB coffers at that time and if a politician can smell anything it is a pile of money!

“In 1999, Majid Khan was replaced by one Mujibur-Rehman, a businessman and the brother of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman Saifur-Rehman, a close confidante of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Mujib was totally incompetent for the job, but before he could pull any of his trickery there was an army coup in Oct 1999 and both the brothers were hauled to jail, kicking and crying. They reportedly spent two-and-a-half years in jail for corruption. This was the first and only incident where a PCB chairman did time behind bars.”

As for the latest entrant, “right off the bat the phrase ‘Banker appointed to PCB by President Zardari’ evokes a lot of suspicion. In the US, this matter would have been looked into in detail. The chairmanship of the PCB is highly sought-after, what with the large amounts of money at the chairman's disposal. The problem in Pakistan is that the next option is usually worse.”

Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf is not a cricket buff; nor has he ever held a bat in his hand; he has however held plenty of sugar cane sticks! He owns the Ashraf Sugar Mills at Bahawalpur. So what are his credentials? Firstly, he runs a business empire called Ashraf Group of Companies; lastly, he studied at Petaro Cadet College, the presidential alma mater. These two qualifications, in the eyes of the president, are enough to win Zaka Ashraf the chairmanship of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Always our ruler at the top tator or democrat as hired and fired people at will; sired schemes that were scams and inspired wrongdoings. The PCB has not been spared. Treating it as a personal playground with a sidekick chairman, who in turn has appointed buddies as managers, selectors, and coaches, examples of our rulers’ delinquent dealings abound, candidly chronicled by our sports commentators to fill up many encyclopedias.

Gaddafi’s name has gone from our cricket annals; open then the doors and windows of the PCB to let democracy in and dictatorship out. For future PCB chairmen, let not just one man, the president or the prime minister, cherry pick.