A report from afar, devoid of practicality
"Pakistan has been a member of the International Cricket Council," begins the ICC's Pakistan Task Team report, "since 1953." It is an unfortunate way to begin what should be a document of such importance because it is wrong; Pakistan was elected in July 1952 and the team played their first Test later that year in October. In a way - if imperfectly - the error captures something of this report.
When the task team was first approved in June 2009 its main purpose was to ensure that Pakistan wouldn't suffer from the loss of international cricket at home and at least look at ways of resuming it. In fact when it was first offered in February that year, the Lahore attacks that eventually ruled out international cricket in Pakistan hadn't even occurred. The task team was a response to an unstable couple of years, in which some teams had pulled out of tours and the Champions Trophy (2008) had been taken away on security grounds.
It is more than a little strange, then, to see that over 38 pages and through 63 recommendations so little space and thought has been given to this central matter, the very crisis for which the task team was first formed. Only three of the 63 recommendations are actually concerned with reviving cricket and they are not so much recommendations as they are sentences of nothingness. "ICC Members should continue to support PCB through fulfillment of FTP commitments, at neutral venues in circumstances where safety and security remains a concern." Really? Yes, that is thoughtful.
"Where ICC Members are confident following their own risk assessments, they should consider touring Pakistan to honour their FTP commitments." That's that sorted then, the first step towards resumption confidently taken. "ICC should support ongoing activity involving the Pakistan ambassadors ([Mike] Brearley and [Greg] Chappell) to keep issues relating to tours involving Pakistan in the public eye." Eh? Is this even a sentence?
Matters of security in Pakistan are not in the hands of the ICC and PCB and there is nothing they can do to change that. But should there not have been more intent, or rather, any intent at all from the PTT? On the ground, what has the task team actually done to try to revive cricket here? Have there been periodic risk assessments by the ICC security task force? Does that force even exist still? Has the PTT even begun to think of a roadmap back, slave as it must be to Pakistan's internal war, but an important sign of intent nevertheless? Only the delusional expected the PTT to bring back cricket in two years, but even the realist could expect a little more than nothing.
That considerable-sized elephant in the room ignored, the rest of the report reads a little like Barack Obama's first-term report card soon might: noble in intent, divorced from reality. The changes it recommends in governance, in cutting the chairman's powers, empowering the regional associations and strengthening the hands of selectors are especially fantastic. Have they met Ijaz Butt yet? Does he look like someone who would willingly reduce his own power? Has any PCB chairman ever? And clearly they have little idea of the kind of troubles that ail regional associations if they can cover it all with this beautifully reduced proposal: "Regional bodies should be empowered to manage their affairs and given more say in the decision-making of the PCB itself."
In these places it feels like a report made from afar and in a way it is. The team met a vast number of former players and officials and other stakeholders during its work, but it never came to Pakistan to see and feel how cricket works. There were eight meetings in all but none in the country to which the report pertained.
When Zimbabwe was dealing with their own task force a few years ago, there were at least two ICC fact-finding missions to the country. The last one in November 2008 was particularly useful and it led to Zimbabwe accepting the recommendation in April 2009. But the PTT never came to Pakistan to meet, for example, officials from the sports and law ministry or constitutional experts, all of whom have a role in any of the constitutional changes the report recommends.
In other places it feels far too intrusive, an indication of confusion as to its own purpose. It suggests better balls be used in domestic cricket. It advises the board to cut the number of central contracts from 45 to 35 (incidentally the board had already cut this down to 20 before the report was published). It urges the board to look again at the value of having regional and departmental teams together in the domestic set-up. Frankly, these points may merit debate, but within the PCB and instigated by them. They are not the concern of the ICC, unless they intend to micro-manage all other Members as well.
Nothing in this report, by the way, is binding on the PCB. Implementation already appears a non-starter. The PCB will get back to the ICC with its own "observations" and there will be plenty. So the lasting impression, especially as far as the more expansive recommendations go, will be of a document that most students and well-wishers of Pakistan cricket could have produced. There is much that is right in it, but that is not the point. We all want there to be no nuclear weapons, a world of peace, no corruption, rape, murder or genocide. Not knowing how to get there is the problem.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo