Good riddance to Calamity Butt
Ijaz Butt is a miracle man. It was a miracle that he survived so long, and a greater miracle that Pakistan cricket survived him. One consolation from Butt's reign of blunders is an appreciation that Pakistan cricket is a resilient enterprise, capable of withstanding any number of escapades at the precipice of destruction. Butt's failed suicide mission has affirmed that Pakistan cricket's demise will only come with the demise of the country.
Under Butt's half-seeing eye, each routine incident became a crisis, every disaster a calamity. Butt treated a national obsession with utter contempt, yet that obsession is so compulsive that it will endure thanks to the passion of players and supporters. When the Test series begins in Abu Dhabi next week, with one Butt gone and another Butt squirming in a London courtroom, Pakistan cricket will suck in the first breaths of a new life.
Butt's incompetence is surpassed only by his arrogance. The spot-fixing scandal shames Pakistan cricket each day, a potent testament to the failures of his cricket board, an organisation entirely incapable of handling any challenge. An attack on Sri Lanka's cricketers on the doorstep of the PCB's headquarters, isolation of Pakistan cricket and its cricketers, and a corruption crisis all demonstrated the failures of governance on Butt's watch.
The PCB became unloved at home and abroad, a friendless and joyless body seeking domination by oppressing its prize assets, heroes of Pakistan cricket past and present. It was obvious to everyone except the man himself that he was a bumbling misfit. Thanks to the indulgence of his friend and patron, President Asif Zardari, Butt treated and abused Pakistan cricket like a personal fiefdom.
This was an extreme example of the danger of personal connections prevailing over competence. Butt had no right to head Pakistan cricket but he arrogantly berated his enemies and interfered with the responsibilities of other board officers, including the national selectors. Worse still, his board damaged relationships with star players, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi being prime examples. All along, Butt unapologetically revelled in the fame that his position and his connections brought him. He had no insight into his unworthiness for the post, only a hubristic conviction in his own decision-making.
Shaharyar Khan was the last of man of quality to head Pakistan cricket, a welcome improvement on the amateur enthusiasms of General Tauqir Zia. But The Oval Test of 2006 weakened Khan, and his successor, Naseem Ashraf, was a chancer on a mission of self-promotion. By the time Butt took charge, the office of board chairman had been devalued and the low expectations of Butt's regime were amply fulfilled.
Butt leaves Pakistan cricket in an abject mess. The chief selector is also interim national coach. The interim chief selector has a penchant for public disputes and a brazen disregard for conflicts of interest. Several major players are suspended or disenfranchised. Pakistan no longer hosts international cricket. The cricket board is marginalised in international cricket politics. The national team is lowly in international rankings, and the feel-good factor of 2009's World T20 victory has long since evaporated. Three years of damage will take a generation to repair.
Butt has truly failed and his purported successor, Zaka Ashraf, is unknown to the world except for a worrying proximity to the President of Pakistan. In Pakistan, it seems only the president's relatives or close friends have the essential skills and experience to run a major enterprise. What a pitifully untalented lot we are. The new chairman's strongest endorsement is that it is hard to imagine how anybody could fare worse than Butt, although plumbing new depths of incompetence has become a national pastime.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's cricketers attempt to build on encouraging progress since the spot-fixing allegations, and the supporters, almost with one voice, shout good riddance to Butt, the man who came closest to destroying Pakistan cricket. Among the legion catastrophes that have besieged Pakistan cricket in the past decade, the biggest calamity of all was the man himself.
I asked Pakistan cricket fans to tweet me their verdicts on Ijaz Butt's reign. Here is a selection of instant reactions:
@ndorobo: Finally, Pak cricket can wake up and rise again.
@passioncricket: Congratulations. At last, a dark era in Pakistan cricket has finished.
@yasirshahid: So Butt is gone. This is the closest Pakistanis are going to get to their Tahrir Square moment.
@mediagag: The night is darkest just before dawn. Really don't think any night can be darker than Ijaz Butt.
@saz69cent: There are people nominated for top PCB positions I wouldn't trust to park my car.
@aatifnawaz: I'm gutted he's gone. My stand-up comedy career may well die with the end of his tenure. Here's to hilarious mis-management!
@wittytweetspk TauqeerZia Was Better Than ShaharyarKhan WBT NaseemAshraf WBT IjazButt. I fear the day when we will long for Ijaz Butt!
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here