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PCB Taking a Fresh Guard

It took persuasion of prime minister Imran Khan, for Ehsan Mani to take over as the new chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), which he did so last September. Seventy-three year old Mani, with on and off link with Pakistan cricket since 1989 and having held prestigious office of  president of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2003-06, is no stranger to the cricket world.

An affable and articulate individual, in sharp contrast to good number of previous chairmen, Mani will keep a much lower profile. His appointment alongside that of Wasim Gulzar Khan, as the first ever Managing Director of the cricket Board, provides Pakistan cricket with a breath of fresh air.

In the first week of December, the 47-year old Birmingham-born Wasim Khan, accepted one of cricket’s toughest assignment and faces the media today in Lahore, on his first day in the office at Gaddafi Stadium. Like Mani, he too has come to Pakistan’s aide, primarily because of Imran Khan being the head of the state. There is enough evidence to suggest, Wasim has the right credentials. Having played for three counties – Derbyshire, Sussex and Warwickshire- as the first British-born Asian to be offered a professional playing contract, he has excelled in the management of the game.

At 31, he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours List for services to cricket and the community. Following his highly successful stint as chief executive of Leicestershire since 2014 and as one of the front runners for a top position in England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Wasim arrives in the country of his parents, with high expectations from Pakistan cricket fan. His professional outlook, one hopes, rubs off on the 900 plus employees of PCB.

Wasim brings with him both passion and par excellent management skills to the game of cricket in the country that tragically has not hosted a Test match for nearly a decade. It will need to be one of Wasim’s priorities and given his highly acclaimed communication skills, it should not be too long when Pakistan ought to get an all-clear from ICC to invite international teams for full tours. Despite the isolation and no favours from its neighbour India, Pakistan has just about managed to stay above water. Now is the time to take off and face the challenges of the ever evolving dynamics of international cricket and there would not be anyone better equipped than Wasim to fight Pakistan’s cause.

Wasim’s experience in a structured and professional environment is all very well in English county cricket but how suitable he is for Pakistan cricket, remains to be seen?  A sceptic view will see both Mani and Wasim as two ‘foreign imports’ invited to fix the ills of Pakistan cricket, presently at a low ebb as far as Test cricket is concerned. There has been a lobby in the country that has strongly opposed – Richard Pybus, Geoff Lawson, Dav Whatmore and ‘Mickey’ Arthur – three foreign coaches employed by the Board in the last 20 years, without having a Pakistani alternative of true merit.  The overall result of the national team, under foreign coaches, bearing in mind it does not play international cricket at home, have not been too bad except that lately its ICC Test ranking has dipped to No.7.

Has time come for Pakistan to scarp the idea of head coach? Pakistan cricket and its cricketers are distinctively different breed from the rest of the world and need not follow the rest of the world and employ a head coach for the sake of it?  Let the national team be accompanied with a strong manager and a bare minimum coaching staff. In the past it seems the likes of Mushtaq Mohammed and more recently Mohsin Khan, both not exactly out-and-out tracking suit coaches, have worked quite well for Pakistan.

On his arrival in Pakistan, Wasim Khan will need to resist the temptation to shake up the whole administration and operational set-up. Compared to the top cricket nations in a highly commercialized sporting environment, Pakistan despite its leading role in the 1970s and the 1980s, both on and off the field and having hosting World Cup events in 1987 and 1996, is often dismissed as ‘no-hopers’, out of tune with the demands of 21st century. Wasim, positioned above COO (chief operating officer) Subhan Ahmed in the Board’s hierarchy and expected to take few months to get to know the ‘ins and outs’ of the Board before he picks his own team of advisors, is determined to change the perception of the outside world of Pakistan cricket.  

In the post-A.H.Kardar phase, i.e. 1977 onwards - a number of ex cricketers – Yawar Saeed, Nasim-ul-Ghani, Ijaz Butt, Intikhab Alam, Javed Burki, Salahuddin, Naushad Ali, Saleem Altaf, Shafqat Rana, Wasim Bari, Talat Ali, Shafiq Ahmed Papa, Agha Zahid, Farrukh Zaman, Iqbal Qasim, Haroon Rasheed, Abdul Raqeeb, Azhar Khan, Ali Zia, Zakir Khan, etc. – have all enjoyed longer stints than others with the cricket Board in various roles but perhaps unable to make strong ‘impact’ or leave a lasting legacy?

The Board, it is to be said, had failed to get the best out of these cricketers. The collective knowhow and experience of the above named cricketers ought to have brought Pakistan cricket Board management in line with the rest of the world which unfortunately has not been the case. It must be added that the top brass of the Board too have been guilty of short-term policy making that has failed to foster or reward dedication and loyalty.  

The working culture of the Board, despite its change from BCCP to PCB in 1995 and introducing ‘corporate culture’ through a new constitution, has yet to be truly run and managed on professional lines, free of any political interference. The key positions in the Board, even to this day are appointments made by the patron-in-chief, either president or prime minister of Pakistan.

The debate of region against departments is set to dominate once again as the quality of domestic first-class cricket is set to come under scrutiny. There is enough time for a revamped first-class programme for the 2019-20 winter, which Mani has suggested shall be a Pakistani model. The decentralising of the power and authority from the PCB head office in Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore to regional associations, might not get the approval of the Governing Body but would be a step in the right direction.

Unless the regional academies are up and running and functional in Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Bahawalpur, Peshawar, Quetta, etc. all the year around, National Cricket Academy (NCA) on its own in Lahore is surely not sufficient enough to accommodate the best talent of the entire country. Mudassar Nazar, in his role as director cricket academies, should have the best coaches in the country at his disposal in NCA and not accompanying the senior national team for it is the junior cricketers that benefits more from coaching and not established international players.

The present scenario at the grass roots has never been more depressing. The leading clubs in Lahore, a major nursery of cricketers for almost a century, is often struggling to raise an eleven. Club cricket particularly in Lahore has taken a real blow with good many grounds taken up by commercial and residential projects and a number of existing grounds vanishing due to Metro and Orange Line tracks. It is a real shame. In case no one has noticed only Sarfraz Ahmed, today re- confirmed as captain for the forthcoming World Cup and Asad Shafiq are the only two Karachi boys in the Test squad. It is hard to get your head around the fact that a city with a population of over 16 million is being represented with so few players.

PCB at present holds U-13, U-16 and U-19 tournaments but the selection system at this level need to be more transparent and free of corrupt practices and nepotism. The cases of over-age players appearing in world events must stop for it is ‘just not cricket’. Selectors, at all levels, need to travel the width and breadth of the country to unearth bright talent to be initially inducted in regional academies and then fed to the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.

Pakistan Super League (PSL) is all good fun in attracting crowd and franchising of six regional teams, for once-a-year T20 tournament. But it should not be the only show piece of the cricket calendar of the country and not relied upon to produce players for domestic and international circuit. PCB and regional cricket associations need to take more ownership of their role in the development of the infrastructure and the players.   
It will do Pakistan cricket no harm to bring forward the names of Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Aamir Sohail, Shoaib Akhtar, Rashid Latif, Jalal-ud-din and Sikander Bakht as potential material for coaching and management roles. With an increasing appetite for change, in all walks of life in the country, the above named group of cricketers could well play a key role in raising, both the profile and performance of Pakistan team and not just restrict themselves to the role of cricket pundits in various media outlets.

Two of Lahore cricket’s stalwarts, Mian Mohammad Aslam and Azhar Zaidi, might be best suited for their valuable input on raising the standard of club cricket and reforming of domestic cricket. An outspoken critic of PCB and that of the previous Government, who in his view completely destroyed the fabric of club cricket in Lahore, Aslam one of the founding members of Muslim Gymkhana, better known as ICC Test Umpire is still fairly active in terms of management at the regional level.

Azhar Zaidi, a founder member of P & T (Panther and Tiger) Gymkhana that has fed a number of players to the national side and Aleem Dar to the ICC panel of elite umpires, has a deep rooted passion for the game, and has taken great deal of pride in serving it, for well over five decades. Zaidi with an experience of managing both senior and junior team on overseas trips in the 1990s could well see himself back in contention for similar roles in the future.

In taking a fresh guard, the new management at PCB, has set the tone for making Pakistan, a formidable and successful cricket nation, in all three formats of international cricket..

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