October 18, 2010

How low can the PCB go?

Pakistan's board has reached a nadir, and now has 30 days to do what it should have done 10 years ago, with the threat of harsh sanctions should it fail to comply

On the day the ICC officially acknowledged that the PCB can no longer be trusted to run cricket in Pakistan, the chief patron of the board, President Asif Ali Zardari, "felicitated" the chairman of the board and players for the Oval ODI being cleared of any suspicions of spot-fixing. Quick as a flash, the PCB released a counter-statement, thanking the president "for his uplifting message" of above-said felicitations. Nero would've been impressed.

In years to come, when we try to fully explain the depths of denial state institutions in this country are stuck in, this classic interaction of officialdom should be repeatedly used. For if the message isn't clear enough, here it is in bold: the running of Pakistan's cricket, and very possibly its future, is no longer entirely in the hands of Pakistan. The ICC will say it differently, talk of greater scrutiny and closer monitoring and last resorts, but diplomat-speak cannot hide it; the ICC's task force on Pakistan is now the reporting authority on Pakistan cricket, and suspension of membership is on the table.

The flippant might argue that as long as Ijaz Butt is in charge, control in someone else's hands is a good thing. But for a nation so hooked to displays of false, blustering pride, so consistently paranoid about its sovereignty, the reaction was strangely muted. Most TV channels echoed the celebratory feel of the president's declaration, running with the Oval ODI being cleared, an indication of just how readily media in this part of the world descends into jingoism. Introspection, in any case, is too long-winded and messy. Two leading English-language newspapers mentioned the ICC warning only in passing, apparently not understanding the full implications of the press release. Long-suffering and deprived fans understandably took to the domestic Twenty20 with beautiful, heartening gusto.

It took a typically blunt Imran Khan to cut to the chase: "The ICC move to warn us and put us on notice is a shameful day for every Pakistani. It is a shame for Pakistan cricket." The cackle of former cricketers and administrators, usually so deafening, has not been heard.

There hasn't been a stronger, more damning indictment of the way cricket is run in Pakistan since full membership was achieved in 1952. Most pointedly the message is aimed at this board, but really the ultimatum is the logical conclusion of the last four years in particular and probably applies retrospectively to all administrations since the first days of match-fixing, the mid-90s. It is actually an equal indictment of the ICC that it has taken it so long to recognise that Pakistan is the sick man of world cricket, a truth most Pakistanis and the world have known all along.

There hasn't been a more damning indictment of the way cricket is run in Pakistan since full membership was achieved in 1952. The message is aimed at this board, but really it probably applies retrospectively to all administrations since the first days of match-fixing

No board has been as accommodating of tainted men as the PCB has. No other board bans a man for five years for saying something out of line publicly and doesn't ban him at all for doping. No other board has taken as many of its own players to court. No other board imposes life bans and fines and turns around on them as often. No other board blames others for its own security failures. No other board so demoralises its own side by changing captain, coach and selectors as often. No board has so shunned, or ignored, the standards the rest of the world adheres to - or at least, in some cases, shows itself adhering to. As part of a global body, those are standards that need to be met at some basic level.

Now, having not done so for 10 years, the board has less than 30 days to implement - not show to be doing, but actually put in place - four anti-corruption measures, measures that were necessary after the Qayyum report became public. Once - and if - that is out of the way, there is the trifling matter of carrying out "any reforms which may be deemed necessary to restore confidence in the administration of the game in Pakistan". And you suspect Mahmoud Ahmedinejad might have more luck winning the confidence of the West.

Giles Clarke, the man Butt peeved, is now the man Butt will report to, the man with whom he has to work to bring about those reforms, a man with wider powers at the head of the task force than ever before. The details of precisely what kind of powers the task force has to bring about change in Pakistan will only begin to be chiselled out now. Issues of governance, of how the board is structured, how it operates, will be "discussed" and "recommendations", in the ICC's wonderfully polite words, will be made. If they had sense they would try and clip the chairman's powers and seek out or develop other power centres, such as the governing board or senior officials. The global body has limited jurisdiction over the affairs of its members under normal circumstances, but these are not them.

And the threat of sanctions in case progress isn't made is very real, the possibility of suspension more credible than ever before. Some will contend that the posturing is a roundabout way for the ICC to remove, or at least stop having to deal with, Butt. In a way it doesn't matter anymore. The ICC will dilly and dally, and hem and haw, but eventually it will reach a point where it will have to take the least desirable step. It has seen such situations twice before, with South Africa and Zimbabwe. The question the PCB must ask then is: who will oppose any move to suspend them? Not many.

Very little time is left in which to achieve a great many things. This is not the time for felicitations. It is a time to get real.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo