Zaka Ashraf aims to take Pakistan to No. 1
Zaka Ashraf, the PCB chairman, has hinted at an overhaul in 2013 as part of an attempt to make Pakistan the best team across all formats of the game. Pakistan have had a fairly good year, with the 3-0 Test sweep of England being the highlight, but Ashraf said discipline and a focus on youth would take the team to the next level.
He also pledged a reform of the PCB administration, saying the problem with Pakistan cricket was not in the system or in its constitution but in the people who are in charge. He said he would work to ensure the PCB would fall in line with the ICC's decision that all member boards should have free elections and be free from political intervention.
Pakistan cricket has been riddled with infighting, indiscipline and clashes between players and the board over the last few years. Ashraf said he didn't want to rake up the past but was confident about the present, insisting that player-power in Pakistan cricket was being curtailed.
"One thing must be ensured that the institution is bigger than the player," Ashraf said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo. "The PCB won't allow any player to offset the unity in the team, and each one will have to be responsible for their own performance. I hope there aren't any groups within the team but if there is something it will be dealt with strictly.
"We have given considerable latitude to players and given them the space to perform," he said. "We have been observing each and every player in the team, who is performing well and who is not. I also understand who talks a lot without producing results, so I think 2013 is the year for an overhaul and things will be better soon.
"I want to give Pakistan cricket a new direction and a future - a future beyond all the previous tragic incidents. What is required is to have a free and clean environment for cricket with no more room for yet another controversy. I don't find any reason that Pakistan cannot be the top team in all formats. Pakistan is a very talented cricket playing country but we have to work hard to make it possible. We have short- and long-term plans but I just need time. We are focusing on youth as the current lot who is above 30 might not be as athletic in the field as the Australians are but we can make our upcoming youth a complete product, bringing them up with the best system and training."
He wants to provide plenty of opportunities to young players at the junior level, giving them ample exposure before reaching the top level. He also acknowledged that the 'A' team, which hasn't played too many matches in recent times, needs to be given more chances to help Pakistan test their back-up.
The years between 2008 and 2011 were a low in Pakistan cricket in terms of governance, with frequent disputes between senior players and the board, and a rent-a-quote chairman not showing the tact needed to smooth out the differences. Ashraf was wary about the challenges he faced after taking over as PCB chairman a year ago, and knows a lot still has to be done. "What happened in past is past. I don't see myself criticising my predecessors. Instead I am seeing what can be done to give Pakistan cricket some stability."
The PCB has come under flak for its constitution that allows its chairman almost dictatorial powers, nearly making it a one-man show. "I am big follower of democratic system but in any case there is always one man behind the gun," Ashraf said with a smile. "I don't see any flaw in the system or in the constitution, the fault actually lies in the people who are at helm of the affairs. System is here to stay, it has to run with always a room for possible improvement.
"But if my working team isn't good then definitely I will not able to perform. I tried to bring a lot of former cricketers on board and made various committees accordingly and they take decision and I only oversee and approve in light of their recommendations. I'm not involved directly nor do I take any direct decisions but I seek explanations before giving an approval."
Ashraf isn't a full-fledged politician but is a member of the Pakistan People Party's Central Executive Committee. With the ICC deadline for removing political interference from member boards looming, the PCB needs to amend its constitution. The prospect of the amendment is not a straightforward move as, according to Ashraf, every country has its unique circumstances according to which the system functions.
The chairman did confirm, however, that the PCB would follow the ICC guideline. "We have already conveyed the details to our patron-in-chief (the Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari)," Ashraf said. "We are willing to comply with the ICC provision and there is no point of ruling it out. We will make it before the deadlines approaches."
One of the major items in Ashraf's agenda is bringing back international cricket to Pakistan. "The incident of Sri Lanka team attack was mishandled and it could have been controlled with greater care if the PCB itself had monitored with the help of an advance team. We know proper security wasn't there and routing arrangement wasn't in best shape to allow the team bus. But now things have changed and we are here to own things and have learnt the lesson.
"I know it's a tough task, but for how much time should we sit like this. Only waiting for the right time won't change things but we have to plan for it. We recently have approved a mega project in Islamabad in which we have planned to build a huge stadium alongwith hotel within the premises that will allow surveillance with heavy security and teams will be carried from airport to stadium with the help of helicopters."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent