October 14, 2011

Ashraf's chance

The new PCB chairman couldn't have taken over a board more in disarray, but he needs to look at it as an opportunity to be seized

Any incoming chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board has to confront certain chronic ills. By now a familiar litany, these include the perpetual ulcers of player politics, media controversies, international cricket ties (especially with India), and the state of the domestic game and its declining talent pool.

Muhammad Zaka Ashraf, the unknown outsider named by President Asif Ali Zardari to succeed outgoing PCB chief Ijaz Butt, confronts a great deal more. There is an incendiary spot-fixing scandal unravelling in the UK courts. There is the avoidance of Pakistan as an international cricket destination, following the terror attacks of March 2009. There is the crisis of confidence in the PCB, reduced to a ridiculed and maligned institution. And then there are the chronic ills.

Whether Ashraf is sincere and competent only time will tell, but the available evidence is not encouraging. Unknown in cricket circles, he has spent his adult life as a sugar baron, industrialist and, most recently, banking chief executive. The head of the PCB is considered the fourth-most-coveted public assignment in Pakistan (after president, prime minister and army chief), and Ashraf's primary qualification for it seems to have been his old friendship with President Zardari, which goes back to college days.

Still, in keeping with cricket tradition, fans are willing to give him the benefit of doubt. This is partly because Butt has left such a mess that any change brings hope. But there is also a positive expectation, that a man without prior cricket baggage might be the need of the hour. Who better than a cricket novice free of prior agendas to begin picking up the pieces and uniting a fractured and dispirited fraternity?

Ashraf's media utterances so far have been bland, though welcome. He has acknowledged the twin crises of scandal and international isolation and promised to tackle them head on. He has also assured Pakistan's leading cricket figures that their feedback and advice will be heard and acted upon - one of the areas where Butt failed miserably.

Unsurprisingly Ashraf has so far been silent on the big elephant in the room - the PCB itself. There is a dire need to create and streamline a truly democratic PCB constitution. This has long been a screaming demand from players and fans alike, to which lately even the ICC has added its voice. While Ashraf can hardly be expected to sever the cricket body's umbilical cord to its patron, the president of Pakistan, he can at least revise the structures and procedures related to the board of governors and relationships with associate bodies. That could pave the way, eventually, for a democratically chosen chairman in the future, who comes with the support of regional associations and the private corporations that maintain first-class teams in Pakistan.

Even more than an enduring constitution, perhaps Ashraf's biggest challenge is to bring some common sense back to the PCB. After Butt's ruinous tenure, the body is more or less a laughing stock - not just in Pakistan but around the world. Like some bad-tempered ogre ticked off by god knows what, Butt went around smashing heads, alienating friends, and demonising his best performers. He dragged top players through arbitrary inquiries and disciplinary commissions, sidelining icons like Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and Shahid Afridi. This time around, fans are not asking for much. If Ashraf can simply display a cooler head, that will go a long way.

He will also have to quickly learn his way around the spot-fixing cases, which are threatening to blow up like a nuclear warhead, unleashing a magnitude of collateral damage that can only be imagined. These cases represent the extension of the game into the worlds of law enforcement and crime, which - even by the infamous standards of Pakistan cricket - is an unprecedented turn of events. Ashraf needs a top, and preferably fresh, legal team to advise him on all the evolving possibilities, and he needs efficient liaison with entities like Interpol, Scotland Yard, and local law enforcement. Nobody yet knows where this scandal will end, and Ashraf's decisions here have the potential to make or break Pakistan cricket. It will demand intense focus, dedication and thoughtfulness from him to remain ahead of the curve.

If Ashraf can maintain Pakistan's spots in the international schedule and organise marquee series, albeit at offshore locations, that will be a job well done

A key strategy for him will be to start mending fences with other boards around the world, most notably India. His goal should be to develop such durable relations with the BCCI that they are no longer hostage to the perpetually turbulent political climate between India and Pakistan. While unlikely to be achieved, this must certainly be his aim. In practical terms this means an international series between the two countries in the next 12 months, with the possibility of more exchanges, including perhaps Pakistanis in the IPL. There is an improved tenor in that the BCCI has stopped rebuffing Pakistan. Ashraf is well placed to seize the moment.

As for hosting international teams once again on Pakistani soil, Ashraf needs to be realistic. He can promise all the best security measures, but these assurances will remain hollow unless peace returns to the country. That requires geopolitical breakthroughs, for which the PCB is at the mercy of events far beyond its influence. Ashraf's goal should be to ensure that the situation does not get worse. If he can maintain Pakistan's spots in the international schedule and organise marquee series, albeit at offshore locations, that will be a job well done.

It is a measure of the complexities facing Ashraf that he has to wade through all these issues before finally coming to the cricket itself. Pakistan has managed reasonable success in the recent past, yet there are a number of critical issues demanding urgent attention. A new coach must be appointed to replace the vacuum left by Waqar Younis. The captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, is near retirement with no credible replacement in sight. The batting skills of Pakistani batsmen have disappeared. And of course player morale is abysmal.

Even casual followers can spout at least a dozen names more deserving of the chairmanship. Is Zaka Ashraf equal to the task? If this were a cricket match, he is walking in when the game hangs in the balance, while better batsmen have not been selected. This is his chance to become a hero.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • aziz on October 16, 2011, 14:10 GMT

    The new chairman is yet to address a press conference to give a road map on how he will restore the pride of Pakistan cricket. PCB should be free of political interference by 2013 otherwise their membership will be revoked. Time to start working on that issue by meeting the ICC President and other officials and the Patron-in-Chief to come to a comnpromise situation. It seems that the new chairman has other responsibilities and he will let the dfay to day running to other office bearers like Wasim Bari, Subhan and Intikhab Alam. If not worse he will be no better then the previous chairman.

  • Dummy4 on October 16, 2011, 12:11 GMT

    As I see it, Zaka Ashraf will turn out to be far worse than Butt. Look at the trend. Tauqir Zia, Shehryar Khan, Nasim Ashraf, Ijaz Butt... The downward trend can only reverse if Imran Khan wins the 2013 elections. Atleast Ijaz Butt was a first class cricketer. Just the one reason he deserved the chairmanship more than me. Now I can safely say I deserve it more than Zaka Ashraf, who's NOT EVEN a cricketer! I agree that a cricketer doesn't a good administrator make, but cricketers CAN be good administrators! With a man like Majid Khan in our midst, it's criminal to let others head the PCB. Well said Saad, about its being the 4th most prestigious post in Pakistan! I just pray my Pakistan doesn't get banned by the ICC. That will be heartbreaking for the millions of fans.

  • Ali on October 14, 2011, 21:51 GMT

    Best thing for 'chairman' would be to ignore cricketing matters related to players and coaches and team managers and selectors. Chairman should only look after the legal and business end of PCB. That's it.

  • Dummy4 on October 14, 2011, 19:48 GMT

    Really osman samiuddin left? or sacked? BTW i think another disappointing decsision have been made by the patron in appointing Zaka Ashraf, a man with no cricketing background. Ijaz Butt had cricketing background still what he did to Pakistan Cricket was a disaster. Now just imagine what is yet to come in face of Zaka Ashraf. No good hopes from my side.:(

  • bob on October 14, 2011, 18:08 GMT

    Osman samiuddin left! Noooooooooooooooooooooooo.

  • Dummy4 on October 14, 2011, 17:03 GMT

    @ Eliya Abbas Syed................Osman Samiuddin is former Cricinfo Pakistan editor......FORMER....................

  • Dummy4 on October 14, 2011, 14:47 GMT

    You said it all mate... Though still missing Osman Samiuddin (hoping he hasn't quit Cricinfo)

  • Syed on October 14, 2011, 12:29 GMT

    Why are we hung up on Pakistanis in IPL? Why can't we use lack of home international series and absence in IPL as an opportunity to build internal competition and local crown involvement. It will be much better than just few players getting millions....if we develop something of our own albeit modest only then we can hope for a combined league sometime in future. For that we need a visionary and a go-getter chairman, is Ashraf that kind of a person?

  • Obaid on October 14, 2011, 11:41 GMT

    Super Article Saad, very true and up to the mark. The big challenge for him is to coordinate with the players, who are not allowed to speak, tweet, and even think. Big job awaiting him, always is when u r a PCB chairman.

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