Oct 13, 2011

PCB after Ijaz Butt

Khalid Hussain Pakistan cricket had been crying out for change soon after Ijaz Butt took over as its chief in late 2008. Its prayers were finally heard last Tuesday when President Asif Zardari decided against giving Butt an extension and instead appointed Chaudhry Zaka Ashraf as the new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). Whether it’s the sort of change Pakistan’s cricket community was praying for is questionable. Only time will tell whether Ashraf, who had been serving as president of the Zarai Taraqqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), manages to deliver at a time when Pakistan cricket is facing gigantic challenges on various fronts. Is Ashraf the right man to guide Pakistan cricket out of the current crisis? What we do know is that he has no cricketing credentials. It seems that Ashraf’s biggest asset is his close association with Zardari, who as PCB’s chief patron has the authority to hire or fire the board’s chairman. In that way, Ashraf reminds me of his namesake Nasim Ashraf, who preceded Ijaz Butt as PCB chief. Ashraf was handpicked by former president Pervez Musharraf only because of his close association with the general. But it’s unfair to rule anybody out without first giving him a try. Just hours after taking over as PCB chairman, Ashraf uttered all the right words. He talked about helping Pakistan regain its rightful place in international cricket. He promised to work for the return of international matches to our country. He talked about ending corruption and promoting unity within the team. He talked about promoting merit and developing a culture where winning matters more than anything else. Sounds promising? He does, but at the end of the day it’s just words. For Pakistan cricket, it will be Ashraf’s actions that will really matter. Once he takes over as PCB chief, Ashraf’s first few steps will be vital. For the best part of the last decade or so, PCB has resembled a ship sinking under its own weight. With an inflated staff, the board ends up spending more on its own operational costs than on the sport itself. Many of PCB’s senior officials are there thanks to their close association with Butt. Others are there because Butt won’t opt for competent people to replace them. Almost all of them are yes-men who wouldn’t dare raise their voices even as Butt made disastrous decisions during his three-year tenure. Many of them are almost as old as the 73-year-old Butt himself. It remains to be seen whether Ashraf persists with any of them, or lets them go. It also remains to be seen whether he too follows in Butt’s footsteps and appoints handpicked people, on his whims and fancies, to help him run Pakistan cricket. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan cricket cannot afford to suffer another Butt-like disaster. Ashraf should be well aware of the fact that Pakistan cricket is in neck-deep crisis. He comes at a time when a hearing related to last year’s spot-fixing trial in is full swing in a London court. The “evidence” being presented there against some of Pakistan’s leading cricketers, both from the past and present, is making headlines around the globe. That’s not all. International teams are refusing to visit Pakistan because of security concerns. We are hosting our matches on offshore venues, and that’s really costing us. If there ever was a time for a 180-degree change in Pakistan cricket, it is now. What PCB needs is a competent set of officials who are capable enough to make positive things happen. Ashraf should find people with the best available credentials and let them put the house in order. As an all-powerful chairman, he should exercise his authority only when it is really needed. There should be professionals to take care of the day-to-day business. The supporters of Ijaz Butt and his policies, though overwhelmingly outnumbered by his critics, used to argue that during his tenure Pakistan did reasonably well on the field. Pakistan won the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 title in England and reached the semi-finals of the 2009 Champions Trophy, the 2010 World Twenty20 and the 2011 World Cup. This is certainly a fact, but that doesn’t mean Butt’s policies, which used to be irrational more often than not, enabled Pakistan to do well in those events. The results were mostly achieved on the basis of the sheer individual brilliance of players like Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi. Younis and Afridi joined hands as captain and vice-captain to help Pakistan lift the Twenty20 crown. Just weeks after that memorable triumph, Younis was deserted by Butt at a time when he was facing a mini-revolt within his own team. Less than two years later, Afridi suffered from a similar fate when he was axed as captain just weeks after he almost single-handedly shepherded Pakistan into the semi-finals of the World Cup. Even if Butt had any direct contribution to those results, the positives during his era were few and far between. In any case, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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