Politics February 4, 2007

A cricket board with much to answer

Now is the time for anguish, pain, inquisition. When cricketers underperform we see their sins laid before us, especially if we've managed to acquire ourselves a high-definition widescreen television. Yet it's the men who scurry around in the shadows that worry me. Most Pakistan supporters had hoped for a regime that would stabilise the international team. Events have conspired against the current cricket board, of course, but the last few months have produced more questions than answers. Here are some issues that are troubling me:

1 Dr Nasim Ashraf promised: "By the start of the new year, I want the board to turn a new leaf and work under the new constitution." Where is it?

2 He also said: "We intend to plan for it [the World Cup] in detail. I am fully intent on making the selection process foolproof." Hmm, perhaps "approved by fools" would have been more accurate? The handling of Shoaib Akhtar, Shabbir Ahmed, Azhar Mahmood, and Shahid Afridi, for example, could hardly be interpreted as foolproof.

3 Waqar Younis. An enlightening exchange between Salim Altaf, director of PCB operations, and Waqar on GEO television was a public relations triumph for Waqar. Altaf, who revealed himself to be a man mired in bureaucracy and unwilling to address Waqar's complaints directly or in detail, implied that Waqar had been employed by the board for just under a year without any appraisal or review of his performance. Shameful management, I'd say. No wonder then that Waqar's role drifted so far from his original job description to render it irrelevant. Yet Altaf clung to that original job description as if variation from it was impossible and used it to justify the board's final treatment of Waqar.

My view is that the board handled Waqar's ouster in a crass and insulting manner. By Waqar's own admission, Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul Haq both preferred to have Mushtaq Ahmed as assistant coach. But on the evidence of the first two crash-wallop games in South Africa, Pakistan's fast bowlers are going backwards rather than forwards.

Indeed, to say that Waqar would not be useful for one-day games is mindboggling for Pakistan supporters who saw him become one of the greatest one-day bowlers ever, particularly in pressure situations. Not just that, he was a pioneer.

4 Mushtaq Ahmed. I want to understand how one minute Justice Qayyum's inquiry can be used as one of the reasons to keep Mushtaq out of the coaching set up but is then conveniently forgotten a few months later? Where's the intergity in that about turn?

5 Appointments by acquaintance. It's not always wise to protest too much. The PCB has got into a peculiar habit of refuting criticism by penning rebuttals in newspapers. One such rebuttal denied a charge of nepotism in appointments at the board and refuted an earlier piece published in Dawn, Pakistan's most highly-respected newspaper.

I made some inquiries of my own and discovered that senior Pakistani journalists are convinced Ahsan Malik, the new head of media at the PCB, is closely related to Nasim Ashraf. Malik was one of the first appointments by Ashraf's regime. Now my view is that it is fine to appoint a relative provided they happen to be the best person for the job. Unfortunately, the jury is out on Malik. And now that the board has publicly denied this relationship--in a piece curiously penned by Malik himself--it has got itself into a potentially disastrous situation. The disaster would be this: If the two are indeed related, which senior journalists insist that they are, then I do not see how either of them can remain in post having denied that they are related to each other?

To add to the sequence of doubtful recruitments, the PCB appointed PJ Mir, a friend of both Ashraf and President Musharraf, as its media manager for the World Cup.

Where's the independence in these appointments? Not much if critics are to be believed.

6 One of the latest media brainwaves is for the PCB to help newspapers send journalists on foreign tours by introducing a "cost-sharing" scheme. Excuse me, in case I've forgotten how journalism works, but anything that compromises the independence of those journalists is unacceptable. In a poor country like Pakistan, he who pays the piper really does call the tune. Most journalists in Pakistan do not enjoy the power, freedom, or the pay of their colleagues in richer countries, and the PCB's initiative is not one of liberation but of media management.

7 With each new PCB regime we are promised merit, ethics, and transparency. Nasim Ashraf's is no different. He also said he wanted to be judged by performances and not mere words. Well, I'm afraid that both the words and performances are causing concern.

Pakistan fans, who care passionately about their favourite game, want some answers. This is not just about the World Cup--although it partly is--but it is about something far deeper in Pakistani society: Whether or not we can trust our major institutions?

If the PCB were to address these concerns I would be delighted to share its responses here. Don't hold your breath though, this is a cricket board already with much to answer.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here