Pakistan Cricket – Past, Present and Future - Wasim Khan – MD Pakistan Cricket Board
Alastair Symondson, Head of Media at Cricket World , caught up with the recently installed MD of the Pakistan Cricket Board, during the early stages of the ICC Cricket World Cup , in England.
Tell us a bit about your start and plans for the future
I’ve been in the role for 5 months now, it’s been pretty full on and hectic as you would expect. Bits of advice I was given before I started the job, which kind of prepared me very well for the role.
One thing that became pretty apart when I started was there is a big link between the sport itself and a big politic agenda if you like, from many many people.
It can be something with the likes of Ehsan Mani, who is a very knowledgeable and experienced cricket administer and human being in general. He has helped me manoeuvre myself through all that and come out the other end.
It’s been pretty relentless with the media attention on you, and the fact I’m a British born Pakistani coming into Pakistan. All the things I was told were come up, have come up, so I was pretty prepared for this role. The key thing for me was to try and take the organisation forward and to contribute.
We’re now putting a 5 year plan together, which the PCB didn’t have, getting performances management processes in place, making sure we have people in the right places - all the usual stuff you would do coming in as a leader into a new organisation. But also buzz off the energy that is there, it’s been tough in many ways but it’s been so fulfilling already with so many great opportunities to do great things.
What can you say to people on their fears for Pakistan cricket on domestic and international level?
I think our domestic game has been decaying for a number of years, and it’s not really been halted, and where we find ourselves now in international cricket is probably an indictment of what goes on at the domestic level.
Wickets are by and large poor in domestic cricket, there hasn’t been a great structure to what we do. The regions and the departments have done a great job in terms of being right at the forefront of domestic cricket.
Things change, and things have to change if we want to move on and be a competing force again, particularly in Test cricket, then we need to create some stress in the system. At the minute we have sixteen teams, eight in division one and eight that operate at a different level.
We don’t have a lot of stress in the system, I can’t remember the last time somebody scored a double hundred in first class cricket. We had 25 innings of scores of less than a hundred in first class cricket in the last domestic season. The top 40 wicket takers there was no spinners or out and out fast bowlers in that.
That in its self tells you a lot, in terms of the types of wickets, facilities and infrastructure there is currently. One thing we do want to get across is I’ve come in with no baggage or preconceived ideas on what’s right or wrong. So, I’ve come in with the point of whatever we do is right for the domestic game in Pakistan.
Yes, there is lots of models to look at and we can certainly learn from what others are doing, but the system we put in place has to be right for Pakistan cricket. We’re moving down the route of 6 provinces, were looking to set up 2nd XIs that sit under that, were looking at city cricket that sits under that.
Round about 75 cities, we have 110 districts which will be converted into a city based competition. Then were looking at club cricket, to strengthen club cricket, so there is a number of levels were looking at.
Will it run smoothly in year one from October, probably not, there will be teething problems and things we will learn and get right for the following season. From our point of view what we’re not going to do is stand still and let Pakistan cricket go its own way and political agendas come to the forefront.
A lot of the arguments you see aren’t actually arguments that provide any evidence of how good domestic cricket currently is and why we shouldn’t change it. The counter arguments don’t have a lot to do with domestic cricket and the playing of the game,
We understand there is sensitivity around employment of cricketers, a lot of cricketers have been employed by departments. The PCB have funded huge amounts of money to regional teams without them really generating any funds themselves. There has been little accountability to how those funds have been spent and that’s something we’re changing going forward.
We want to empower the regions, the 6 provinces, to become self-sufficient. We need to decentralise quite a lot as the PCB, because we do fund a huge amount of cricket from groundsman to coaches, cleaners at all the international grounds.
We need to put a system in place so we can empower the provinces, decentralise and start looking at where else we can spend money, making sure they’re self-sufficient. Get good governing processes that include marketing people, accountants, legal people that can help them run a system there that will help them run the domestic game.
Your 66 top players will be playing across those 6 provinces in first class cricket and make it ultra competitive and create real stress in the system so we have high quality, best pitches and improve coaching, medical teams across all the 6 provinces.
When you create a whole system change people get nervous, so the reaction is not something I didn’t expect. We’ve seen in England with 100 ball people are resistant to change and frightened to what it might mean for them. But when you get beyond that and put a cricket case forward about why change is needed eventually people buy into what you’re trying to do because they know it’s what’s right for the domestic game.
The new province cricket will start from this October?
Yes, were looking to implement that from October and done a huge amount of work around that. We genuinely believe it’s the right way to go, there is a lot of noise on the outside about arguments that don’t equate to the quality of cricket itself and based on all the peripheral things.
I rest my head on the pillow every night knowing whatever decisions were making were doing what’s right for the domestic game in Pakistan. We currently produce cricketers who play for Pakistan, what we need to do is create Pakistan cricketers. There is a subtle difference, we need to create a system that works from bottom up, right up to the top level.
Then when we get the players coming into international cricket, they’re well prepared, well drilled, they know what is expected in international cricket and ready to perform at the highest stage.
Is the PSL looking to be brought back to Pakistan and played in its entirety from next season?
That’s certainly the plan, I think it’s critical for the nation that the whole of the PSL comes back to the country. I think people have been starved of high-quality cricket for a long time, it has been documented with no international cricket in prior years.
To bring back and see full stadiums, like we saw in Karachi with 40,000 odd people at every game we know the demand is there and people have been starved of cricket. We need to start showcasing our local heroes and role models to the next generation to inspire them to take up the game as well, which is critical for the sustainability for Pakistan cricket.
In terms of the economy in Pakistan, it would just give the country a huge lift, if we had the PSL at 3 or 4 venues it would just spread the game and high-quality cricket across the whole country.
How are discussions with the ICC going?
The ICC have supported us by helping us support costs for an independent security organisation to work with us, to provide independent reports to all the countries, and they’re a well-recognised and respected organisation in the game.
That’s there to provide us with reassurances that we’re doing the right things and also help train us up to upscale our teams back at the PCB and in the game. We had a very successful PSL, we played 8 games back there, there was a World Series back in 2017, we had the West Indies women come, Sri Lanka men, West Indies men coming as well.
We have already evidenced that the main cities have been incident free for a while now, a lot of the issues are confined to certain parts such as Kashmir. We’ve seen through Sri Lanka and New Zealand nowhere in the world is safe now, from our point of view we have to stay on our guard to make sure that everything we do we do to the highest quality and safety.
When people ask me about my experiences it’s interesting the perception is ‘Are you safe there?’ and I haven’t felt safer anywhere else in the world. There have been no issues at all, Micky Arthur and the other white support staff travel freely in Lahore and across the country.
I’m going to the airport in Karachi, there are backpackers everywhere, Germans or Australians who have been travelling for a month and I’ll make a B line to go and talk to them about their experiences.
They talk about how amazing it’s been and their perception of Pakistan before they arrived and how they’re now going to start talking about the reality of being in the country.
All we can do is keep beating the drum, Sri Lanka are due to play a home series against us in Pakistan in September/October and we’ll begin discussions with them post World Cup.
We will invite the key people over and the security managers to come and have a look at our plans and what we’re offering with the view of them agreeing to come in September/October. We’ve got Bangladesh in January so we will open discussions with them.
The country is ready now to host top flight international cricket again, but we need to keep taking one step at a time; convincing Sri Lanka is our first step. International cricket is needed or cricket will slowly die out in the country, for us and our players to be playing in front of one man and his dog in UAE doesn’t do a great deal for test cricket.
In terms of from a financial point of view, it costs us a huge amount of money to play matches in the UAE with very little return, so the economics don’t work either and it’s haemorrhaging us. We need cricket back, and it’s small steps for us, and we know we’ve got a lot of work to do on that but it’s my job and Ehsan’s job to show what we can offer as a nation.
India v Pakistan coming up, how's the team and dressing room?
I spoke to Micky this morning and he said the guys have trained very well in between the showers and the rain. The guys are in a really good place and are very passionate about their country and performing for their country.
We have to make sure we can keep supporting them and put the right infrastructures in place in terms of their education, training and anything we can provide them.
The great thing about sport, and particularly cricket, it is like a religion it’s more than just the game itself but we do have to keep things in perspective it’s not a war it’s a game of cricket. Whilst it provides bragging rights to the other nation for winning, I’d happily lose to India and win the World Cup.
I think ultimately we have to keep our eye on the bigger goal, India have done really well in terms of having the rub of the green against Pakistan and managed to deal with it as another game. Where as perhaps the feedback from our guys have put too much pressure on themselves, India are a quality side and can beat anyone on their day and we will have to be out our best if we want to get a positive result out of that game.
Pakistan v England final, who do you support?
Didn’t Norman Tebbitt ask this question years ago, does the Tebbitt test still exist? The question I would ask is, within England people with Scottish or Irish heritage who they support when England play Ireland or Scotland, I know the answer to that.
It’s very interesting because I saw Michael Vaughan during the Cardiff T20 game, about four or five weeks ago and it was the last day of the football season, and Vaughny got out his car and shouted out “Who you supporting today then?” and I said Birmingham city mate, big game.
My loyalty is clearly with Pakistan, I’m the MD there and trying to contribute and move Pakistan cricket forward. Obviously, a lot of history and my roots are still here in England. I’d have to want us (Pakistan) to win, that’s where my loyalties lie now.
Lastly, Imran Khan, is it a good thing for cricket in Pakistan to have an ex international cricketer as a Prime Minister?
I think it’s only a positive thing, he’s a smart man and very knowledgeable about cricket. He certainly makes suggestions but doesn’t impose his ideas on anybody and Ehsan has found that to be a great level of support for him coming into his job.
Similarly, with myself knowing Imran is at the helm of the country was a big persuading factor for me to come and know what he was trying to do with the country and if we could replicate that within the cricket board. Politics and cricket are the two biggest things in the country and the PCB is probably one of the most well-known institutions in the country.
Having the PM as a patron I think is a very positive thing, as I say he isn’t as hands on with the day to day stuff as you would expect with the cricket but we know where he is if you need to bounce anything off him or get his views on certain things.
When you’re involved in a sport and the prime minister has played that sport, it can only be a good thing.
©Cricket World 2019