Saviours or blackmailers?

April 21,2019

The uprising within the Pakistan Cricket Board that took place last week wasn’t a good development for Pakistan cricket. It wasn’t a bad one either. While it was apparent that the...

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The uprising within the Pakistan Cricket Board that took place last week wasn’t a good development for Pakistan cricket. It wasn’t a bad one either. While it was apparent that the decision by five members of the PCB Board of Governors to walk out of the BoG meeting in Quetta highlighted the dirty politics that continue to dog PCB it also underlined the fact that there were some pressing issues that cannot be resolved in dictatorial manner. My sources tell me that the dissenting group of BOG members led by Sialkot Region’s Nauman Butt wasn’t just acting for the betterment of Pakistan cricket as they may like us to believe.

They weren’t even acting on their own. There is a power struggle going on in the PCB and it was apparent that Butt and company had chosen to side with the ones looking to regain lost ground in the Board. Somebody else was pulling the strings trying to stir up a major controversy in order to bring PCB chairman Ehsan Mani to the negotiating table. Such blackmailing tactics are never used for a good cause. Hence what happened in Quetta, which saw its firstever BoG meeting ending prematurely, wasn’t a good development for Pakistan cricket.

The reason why I think it wasn’t a bad development either is because in serving their own clandestine agenda, the BoG members have managed to further highlight a couple of key issues. The first one was about the appointment of Wasim Khan as Managing Director of the PCB. The dissenting BoG members, who were in majority at the Quetta moot, demanded the removal of Wasim Khan as part of their wish list. Wasim’s is a curious case. The man whom many thought would soon be running cricket in England, the country of his birth, chose to do the same job in Pakistan, the country of his ancestors. His resume looks good. There is no doubt about that. That’s why PCB has been touting his appointment as some sort of a coup. Under normal circumstances Wasim’s appointment would have been a great step forward for Pakistan cricket, which has been in dire need of professionalism for years. Parasitical officials have been occupying key positions in the Board for eons with precious little to show when it comes to accomplishment. One really hoped that once Wasim took over, such officials would be shown the door. For some strange reason, this hasn’t really happened.

People like Sohaib Sheikh, one of the key officials behind the rise of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) as a best-selling brand, were let go. But others with questionable credentials remain very much part of PCB’s core team. So what’s the purpose of having Wasim Khan? Despite their own hidden motives, the dissenting group has asked this very valid question. Wasim’s is indeed a curious case. The PCB did go through a proper process to hire him. It sought applications, shortlisted them. Interviewed the best candidates and selected the man who must have topped the list. But the problem is that it’s an open secret that the post of MD was created in the first place to bring Wasim in. The selection process to fill the post was designed after the decision had already been made as to who will be appointed. The appointment of another key PCB official was also made in a similar manner. There are many people in the PCB who didn’t welcome Wasim in the fold.

They did it mostly for selfish reasons but they do have a point. Like in the past when key appointments were made at the whims and fancies of the high and mighty, the order to appoint the British-born former first-class cricketer came from the top. My sources tell me that Zulfi Bukhari, a close friend of the Prime Minister, was directly involved in getting Wasim appointed as PCB’s MD. If that’s true then a good thing was done in an improper manner. For a government that came into power with the promises of introducing transparency to a corrupt system this doesn’t look good. Hence, Wasim’s removal came at the top of the wish list put forward by the dissenting Board members. They knew that they were hitting below the belt. They knew it will hurt. Wasim isn’t helping his own cause either. When expectations are high, you have to start delivering without wasting much time. His critics argue that so far all that he has done is to stand in front of the cameras during PSL 4 or be present at the various awards ceremonies. For that we already have a chairman, why appoint an MD? They ask. Quite rightly so. The current situation in the PCB reminded me of Julius Caesar and how a group of dissenting Roman senators conspired against him, resulting in the assassination of the one of the top political and military figures of world history.

In a nutshell, Caesar wanted to bring reforms that weren’t necessarily bad for the average Roman. But having assumed the role of a dictator, he was hurting Rome, the Republic. The Senators were no angels either. The chief reason that drove them to resist Caesar was their own lust for power. But what gave their resistance legitimacy was the notion that they were doing it all to save the Republic. In the end Caesar died but so did the Roman Republic. When it comes to the PCB, our Caesar doesn’t sit at the Board headquarters in Lahore. He is the man running the country. As Prime Minister and chief patron of PCB, Imran seems hell bent to bring sweeping changes in Pakistan’s domestic cricket structure. I’m sure he means well. Our domestic system is farcical, at best. It has been in need of major changes for many years. Every new set-up in the PCB comes out with its own plans. But the more they try to change, the more it stays the same.

Imran, however, isn’t a man who can live with half measures. He has ordered a new domestic cricket system based on a smaller, more efficient Australian model. This effectively means a death knell for the regions and departments, who have been present as major players in Pakistan cricket for decades. The departments, more or less, have been the lifeblood for a majority of professional cricketers providing them with jobs. Most of the stakeholders in Pakistan cricket are opposed to the plans that are aimed at striking out the departments from Pakistan cricket, once and for all.

But the writing is on the wall. Habib Bank, which for years was one of the leading departmental teams in Pakistan’s first-class cricket, saw it and opted to close its cricketing shop. Others would certainly follow suit. This will result in dozens, may be hundreds of cricketers, losing their jobs. It’s a catch-22 situation and the Board officials including Ehsan Mani know it. Hence the second demand on the wish list of the dissenting Board members: Don’t try to abolish departments and regions in domestic cricket. The conspirators, like the Roman senators, know that the PCB is walking on thin ice when it comes to the plans to install a new domestic cricket system. Their revolt in Quetta wasn’t a whimsical one. It was carefully planned and well-timed by the men holding the strings. On his part, Ehsan Mani has tried to put up a brave face by stressing that he won’t be blackmailed. But the chairman should know that daggers have been drawn and the ones carrying them, like Brutus, could be closer than he thinks they are.

Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News


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