Pakistan news June 2, 2011

Under-pressure PCB moves on Afridi situation

ESPNcricinfo staff

The PCB has cranked up the pressure in its dispute with Shahid Afridi by beginning formal disciplinary procedures against the former captain, even as political pressure is brought to bear on the board to resolve the dispute. The board has, as expected, set up a three-member disciplinary committee and directed Afridi to appear before it on June 8, at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

The committee will be chaired by Sultan Rana, director of domestic cricket, and will include Shafiq Ahmed, general manager of domestic cricket, and Usman Wahla, manager of international cricket. Taffazul Rizvi, the board's legal advisor, will assist the committee.

An unusually detailed board press release on Thursday evening spelt out the formal process. A statement from a senior board official also sought to make clear precisely what the issue was, an indication of the fairly high stakes of a very high-profile dispute and the subsequent need to be as transparent as possible.

The board said it had responded to Afridi's defense, in which he had admitted to violating the PCB's code of conduct by announcing his retirement to the media. "It is painful for us to get involved in a dispute with a cricketer who has been the national team captain until the West Indies series," PCB COO Subhan Ahmed said in the release. "There are numerous contributions by Shahid Afridi to Pakistan cricket. But I think people need to understand that this is purely a disciplinary issue.

"As the body managing cricket in the country we are duty-bound to maintain discipline at all levels. We will ensure that Shahid is given every opportunity to express and defend himself and as such the disciplinary process has been clearly spelt out to avoid any ambiguities".

This administration has sought at every opportunity to strangle what it sees as burgeoning player power; last year they banned or fined seven top players after the Australia tour. Two of them, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, spent protracted periods out of the side thereafter. But Afridi is a different kettle of fish, not only because he was a captain with some positive results to show, but because of his immense popularity across most of the land; no other player in the side comes close.

For this reason, the dispute has become politicised. The day began with Rehman Malik, the country's interior minister, pledging to get involved in the matter, "I will do whatever I can to resolve this issue, as I am equally a fan of Afridi," Malik tweeted. ESPNcricinfo understands that pressure has been put on the board from his side but that it has so far been resisted.

Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, is also politically well-covered - he is appointed directly by the President of the country and board patron Asif Ali Zardari. But the board believes its case, in this matter, to be strong enough to not warrant political intervention from their side, for now at least. Malik has success in such matters in the past, having mediated a peace between former chairman Nasim Ashraf and Shoaib Akhtar in 2008.

As part of the disciplinary proceedings, the committee will frame charges, record evidence and hear arguments before announcing its order. Afridi will be allowed to file an appeal against the order, through an appellate tribunal comprising an independent panel of arbitrators maintained by the PCB, and their ruling on the matter would be final.

While announcing his 'conditional' retirement, Afridi lashed out at the current board and has brewed up a number of storms; he has hit out at former Test opener and current selector Mohammad Ilyas, as well as playing up the regionalism card by attacking a "Lahore lobby" behind his removal. In some reports he has also criticised Intikhab Alam, the team manager. These comments, it is understood, have hardened the board's stance and resolve in ensuring the disciplinary process is followed through to a logical and legal end.

The developments further reduce the chances of Afridi playing for Hampshire in the Friends Life t20; the PCB suspended Afridi's contract, slapped him with a showcause notice, and revoked the No-Objection Certificate that would have allowed him to turn out for Hampshire. Afridi, keen to get the Hampshire situation resolved quickly, admitted to violating the code and stated his willingness to participate in further disciplinary action. Hampshire have urged the PCB to reconsider the withdrawal of the NOC, but at this stage it looks unlikely.