October 15, 2013

Pakistan cricket's organisational mess

What are the PCB and the regional cricket associations doing about the near-disastrous state of the game in the country? Next to nothing

With each passing day, the long-term future for Pakistan cricket is looking ever more bleak.

It is bad enough that the national side got whitewashed in South Africa and dropped a Test against Zimbabwe. On both tours, the bowling was lacklustre, the fielding and wicketkeeping unsettled, and there was virtually no batting depth to speak of. Much worse is the fact that there is no relief in sight.

Time was when unknown young men would come out of nowhere to don the Pakistan colours and blossom into the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Wasim Akram, Shahid Afridi, and Mohammad Yousuf, to name a few. Those times are now history. Pakistani fans have always placed great pride in the image of their nation as a fountain of cricketing talent. That image is now shredded.

This undeniable talent drought indicates that the game at the grassroots is not being properly tended to. Much has been said about the ills of cricket governance in Pakistan but the mess, in a nutshell, is simply this: the PCB with its hand-picked chairman is ultimately an unaccountable body, while the regional cricket associations spread across the country operate as personality-dominated fiefdoms. The overall result is gross organisational dysfunction in the form of a neglected vision, lopsided priorities, and lack of sensitivity to key indicators.

It is difficult to accurately measure the scale of the problem, but driving through urban concentrations like Lahore and Karachi can be very revealing. The overwhelming majority of cricket seems to be played in the streets, on rooftops, and in shabby open spaces. The equipment is substandard at best and the facilities non-existent or ramshackle. The batting, bowling and fielding techniques on display would give any coach an ulcer.

It is no use saying that these are the same conditions and this is the same environment from which Pakistan's great legends arose. The situation now is much decayed, confirmed by the stark reality that the talent that used to pour into the national side has dried up.

What is the collective might of the PCB and the regional cricket associations doing about this? The answer is, next to nothing. Yes, there is a constant application year after year of spit and polish to the domestic first-class set-up, but not only is that tinkering largely arbitrary and cosmetic, it lies too far downstream in the talent life cycle.

Something must be done and quick. The heartening news is that a culture of democracy and accountability is taking root in Pakistan, and it has started to create some hope for fundamental change. One key element in this new wave, as Osman Samiuddin has pointed out, is decentralisation of power away from the centre and towards the cities and provinces - a move enshrined through a constitutional amendment.

A fundamental shift is needed, and many cricket insiders are now looking towards Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is known for his love of the game and even has his own ESPNcricinfo player page. He hasn't done much so far, beyond appointing a non-serious character in the form of Najam Sethi as acting PCB chairman. Admittedly Sharif's hands are full of more pressing matters. But there is no escaping cricket. It remains a very important agenda in the Pakistani psyche, and Sharif will have to attend to it with honest intent before too long.

The most important issue following on from devolution of power is the conduct and governance of regional associations. At the moment, 15 such bodies exist in Pakistan, each having its own president and secretary. The regions are further divided into districts, of which there are 92 such entities, with each district having its own president too. The ability and dedication of these office-bearers is questionable, a sad reality that is woefully reflected in Pakistan's grassroots decay. The districts are further sub-divided into zones, and it's a mockery that they aren't population-based. One zone could have 200,000 people, another only 20,000 or even less.

A fundamental shift is needed, and many cricket insiders are now looking towards Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

It is also a concern that not one president or secretary at the regional or district level is a former national or even first-class cricketer. This is not because of any lack of interest from former cricketers, who are always anxious to find a livelihood after their playing days. Rather it is the result of Machiavellian manoeuvring by people skilled in the political arts. In some instances, as in the case of the Karachi City Cricket Association, these positions have become virtually fossilised, with the same individuals clinging on for decades.

Another confusion is the parallel existence of the so-called "departmental" teams - outfits at the first-class level that are maintained by corporate entities like banks, airlines and railways - which remain conjoined with the regional associations in a dysfunctional Siamese relationship. And on top of everything else, governance roadmaps in the form of constitutions and bylaws remain shifting targets throughout this pyramid, up to and including the PCB.

The mess, undeniably, is enormous. Still, Sharif has been disappointing. His decision to appoint Sethi was hasty, and it has all the markings of a badly mistimed stroke. This was, in any case, a consolation prize for Sethi, who is rumoured to have coveted most an ambassadorship to the United States. It is hard to take Sethi seriously, because he always looks and sounds like he's pulling your leg. His most prevalent persona is as a clever and calculating political commentator on Geo, Pakistan's wildly popular TV channel.

The few times he has agreed to be interviewed on cricket, he has sounded no different from your average Pakistani elder relative who happens to be an armchair follower of the game. It doesn't help his credibility that, in a conflict of interest writ large, the TV rights for Pakistan's upcoming series against Sri Lanka have been sold to Geo Super, a subsidiary of Sethi's employer.

At the moment, the Islamabad High Court has an injunction on the PCB to produce a comprehensive constitution that has been properly conceived from all angles, including those of decentralisation and regionalisation. Sethi inspires zero confidence in his ability to deliver on this mandate, which means that the legal stalemate is likely to continue for a while.

There is no shortage of capable individuals to replace Najam Sethi, if only Sharif would be willing to look beyond his cronies. Sethi's appointment has not only backfired, it didn't even buy much time, and the ball is now firmly back in Sharif's hand. It's your over, Mr Prime Minister. We are waiting for your next delivery.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi. His latest book is Breath of Death, a medical thriller

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aditya on October 17, 2013, 9:41 GMT

    The Pakistan team will always be the team, it seems, India knows nothing about. I never saw Pakistan play, until the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup, in boarding school. Apparently, Imran Khan was bowling medium pace, but another bowler was supposed to be bowling loosing a finger or two in his bowling hand, according to my very knowing house cricket team member. And, the Aussie's were making Imran the highlight, saying he just came back from injury. All I can say is, that Pakistan were the most interesting team, apart from India. I knew all the Indian players, being in a boarding school, where no newspapers were read by schoolboys our age.

  • Android on October 16, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    wasim and waqar are one in generation bowlers. for this generation it was gul and amir.

  • Bludging on October 16, 2013, 0:16 GMT

    Imran Khan railed against Pakistan's structure as long ago as the 1970s. His solution was to play first class cricket in England and for a season in Australia.

  • ESPN on October 15, 2013, 20:22 GMT

    I disagree to the fact there is no talent, shah masood is an example n others too...on the other hand i would agree that there is no wasim and waqar quality bowler in the pakistani domestic circuit. I still think there is too much talent just that in 80's players who werent part of PCB found talent and groomed and supported them to the national side now i dont think even one ex-cricketer does that. I believe PCB should hire m.yousuf as a bating consultant for U19 talents and also w.youns or sarfaraz as a bowling coach...this way new and groomed players will come to the game. I strongly disagree that no international games is effecting the talent..coz cricket is undoubtedly the most played game of pakistan in youths.....

  • Android on October 15, 2013, 19:52 GMT

    I think that Mr. Najam Sethi knows what he is up to. He cannot make blank promises about a game which is so much loved in Pakistan. If he did any wrong he won't be forgiven and remember the committee which is appointed by the PM chose him unanimously and it does include respected people like zaheer abbas and sheharyar khan etc. So I am keeping my fingers crossed. I don't think lot of journalists do actually try to be practical about their views. Mr sethi has a chance to do what he says or thinks.

  • Jawwad on October 15, 2013, 19:01 GMT

    Saad I do not agree with your assessments on lack of talent pool coming out of Pakistan. I do however know that cronyism, nepotism have reached new heights in Pakistan and deserving candidates are not being given chances or persisted with. Look at the headlines from India - BCCI to work on Project Raina. What does that tell you? It says their entire team is settled with the exception of No. 4 and they are have identified Raina for the spot and will work on him. Now, we are missing an all rounder. Has Pak management tried to bring in any all rounders and then give them a consistent run? Problem is not talent, problem is talent management. Look at today's Test Match. Deserving players are there and results are for everyone to see. Does anyone in PCB care to explain the exclusion of Khurram Manzoor for 3 years when he was the last man standing on Australian tour and unceremoniously discarded for what? To make way for Hafeez?. Talent is there. Who to play and when to play who is dilemma.

  • shahid on October 15, 2013, 16:36 GMT

    Among all other problems, the biggest is that PCB is not willing or able to arrange enough A-team tours, specially to England, Australia and South Africa. That could have been the only possible replacement for side matches which the up coming talent normally gets to play in when the visiting teams come to a country.

  • abhijeet on October 15, 2013, 13:14 GMT

    Whoa, neither the writer nor the fans in comments section (so far) have blamed BCCI or India for this new mess Pakistan Cricket is finding itself in. Strange indeed.

  • Android on October 15, 2013, 11:19 GMT

    i think your being negative to say theres no talent. the problem is they cant play at home, which build players confidence playing in front of full stadiums at home. then they can go over sees and use that experience and confidence to express them selfs and i think yhey should try not to get too into t20 as it cant realy build a quality cricketer. i think alot of teams would get whitewashed by s africa in africa at the moment. zimbaba bowled well in 2nd test. no one mentions pakistans performance in 1st trst. they should keep misbah as captain and keep going, this yeam can do big things.

  • I on October 15, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    I hope that brief and sporadic international success doesn't distract from the very timely and serious message that Saad is giving voice to here

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