When will things change?

March 1, 2020

After bringing in Wasim Khan to run the Board, PCB chairman Ehsan Mani claimed that the move was aimed at infusing professionalism in Pakistan cricket. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened.

Some things never change. Just like the Lahore Qalandars and their fondness for losing matches at the Pakistan Super League (PSL). The most under-achieving team in the history of PSL, the Qalandars have begun season 5 with three straight losses. Their latest defeat came on Friday night when they were trounced by 16 runs in a rain-hit match in Rawalpindi.

However, there is still hope for Qalandars as the PSL season is still in its initial stages and Lahore will get ample opportunities to bounce back and silence a growing list of their critics.

Some things never change. And now I’m talking about the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Over the years, we’ve seen top Board officials making one blunder after the other. We’ve seen PCB chiefs taking decisions at their whims and fancies. We’ve seen them appointing their favourites in important positions without any fears of accountability.

There were hopes that things would change with Ehsan Mani at the top. A former president of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Mani is regarded as a respected figure in world cricket.

Handpicked by Prime Minister Imran Khan to replace Najam Sethi, uttered all the right words after taking charge as PCB chairman. In a detailed interview with this scribe last year, Mani stressed that his biggest task was to promote professionalism in Pakistan cricket.

He also stressed that with Wasim Khan, an England-born former first-class cricketer in the saddle, things will improve. After bringing in Wasim to run the Board, Mani claimed that the move was aimed at infusing professionalism in Pakistan cricket. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened.

Take for example the current edition of PSL. It began last month with a bombshell and a damp squib. The bombshell came in the form of a suspension order slapped on Umar Akmal by the PCB under its anti-corruption code.

And the damp squib? You all know what I’m talking about. Yes, I’ referring to what was a disappointing start to our very own T20 league in Karachi.

The Board was duly criticised for the poorly orchestrated opening ceremony. It also came under attack for failing to ensure housefuls for PSL matches. It was obvious that the current PCB bosses were unable to cash on the popular T20 league which seemed to be in much better shape when in the hands of Sethi and Co.

So what did the Board do?

Well, it came out with a long media release that praised cricket fans in Karachi and Lahore for supporting the league.

“The PCB is overwhelmed with the excellent spectator response and turnaround at the two venues for the first seven matches. When the hosting of the complete HBL PSL 2020 was announced 12 months ago, this is exactly what the PCB had envisaged and the PCB is grateful to all the spectators for supporting its vision and endeavour,” the media release stressed.

Despite the tall PCB claims, it was obvious that fans in Karachi and Lahore weren’t really pouring in.

Many of the matches in Karachi and Lahore were held in front of many empty seats. A variety of reasons including poor scheduling of matches (most of the matches in Karachi were held during daytime) and strict security measures are seen as some of reasons behind less than satisfactory attendance of spectators at the PSL venues.

PCB’s media release also defended the error-filled opening ceremony of the PSL in Karachi last Thursday.

“Hosting of any opening ceremony presents its own challenges. While a number of Pakistan cricket fans have been vocal in their disapproval about elements of the ceremony, a sizeable number of followers were pleased with the display. Being an evolving organisation, the PCB is keen to learn from these experiences to further improve the quality of events in the future,” it said.

What? It’s PSL’s fifth year and the Board is still learning the ropes. Are you kidding me!

The reason why the Board was unable to deliver a befitting opening ceremony is simple. It didn’t retain the people who’ve been instrumental in making PSL a successful and viable T20 league. Instead hand-picked people were given the task. And you know what happens to a task when it is placed in incapable hands?

The Board also denied that it opted for Indian nationals to conduct the opening ceremony.

“As far as the nationalities of the personnel involved in the production of the matches, the PCB wishes to clarify there is a diverse group of people who are ensuring images of our event, culture and passion is distributed across the globe. Most of these personnel have been regular visitors to Pakistan since 2015, albeit different production company,” it said.

“It must be remembered modern day high-tech broadcast technologies are neither locally available, nor are the personnel trained to operate these technologies. A goal identified at the outset by both PCB and our consortium partners of Tower Sports and SportzWorkz, was to start the process of developing local talent so that the country becomes self-reliant.”

Well, I have no problems when it comes to seeking foreign help. But if both my options, local and foreign, are below-par then I’ll opt for my own people. But the Board also had a third choice. It could have opted against holding a full-fledged opening ceremony in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against opening ceremonies and pre-tournament celebrations.

And, of course, major events like the Olympic Games take pride in staging mega opening ceremonies that are beamed across the globe.

But those are big-budget exercises taken on by the best professionals in the world.

In our country where cricket is run by “an evolving organisation” which is, even after seven decades of its existence, “keen to learn from experiences to further improve the quality of events in the future” it’s better to avoid going for such events.

That said, it is encouraging to see that the PSL has braved early setbacks and is now in full flow. The addition of Multan and Rawalpindi in the list of PSL venues is a big leap forward. Next year, we should also embrace Peshawar. There is also a possibility that Hyderabad, that long-ignored Test venue, might also host a match or two in the future.

Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News   he can be reached  at [email protected]

When will things change in the PCB?