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'The chance to make a positive contribution to Pakistan was overwhelming' - new PCB MD Wasim Khan

Wasim Khan had two fantastic opportunities - one in England and the other in Pakistan - and he chose the one that was closer to his heart

George Dobell
George Dobell
Wasim Khan, who has been appointed PCB managing director, Worcester, April 1, 2015

Wasim Khan, the new chief executive of Leicestershire  •  Getty Images

In the end, there wasn't much of a choice to be made. Presented with two fantastic job opportunities - managing director of the PCB or managing director of England's men's teams - Wasim Khan found himself dreaming only about one of them.
The England job paid significantly more. It was probably more straightforward, too. Yes, sorting out England's centre of excellence in Loughborough may be demanding. But it's a great deal easier than improving the relationship between the PCB and the BCCI (maybe that should read "between Pakistan and India") and overseeing a return of high-profile international cricket to Pakistan. The England job didn't involve his wife giving up her job or his children leaving their schools, either.
But the heart wants what it wants. And the more Wasim thought about his options, the clearer his mind became.
"My friends noticed that, when I talked about the Pakistan role, I was much more animated and excited," Wasim says. "I knew they were both great opportunities. But the chance to make a positive contribution to Pakistan was overwhelming. It's my passion. It's been my passion for years."
So Wasim withdrew from the ECB process after the first round of interviews - he was all but assured of a second interview - and accepted the Pakistan job. While he briefly considered commuting weekly from Birmingham - there are daily flights to Lahore - he concluded it was important to demonstrate his commitment by moving. He will arrive in February, with his wife and two daughters, aged 11 and 9, following at the end of the academic year in July. All are said to be relishing the opportunity. It is, at present, a three-year deal.
Wasim's love affair with Pakistan cricket goes way back. While he was born in England in 1971, his family had moved from Pakistan (actually Azad Kashmir) just three years previously and Punjabi was the main language of the household; he learned Urdu and English later. The first professional sport he saw was in 1982 when he climbed into Edgbaston - he couldn't afford a ticket and football grounds were still not especially welcoming to people from Asian communities - to see Imran Khan take a seven-for in the first Test of the series against England.
Inspired by what he had seen, he carved a crescent moon and star - the symbols on the Pakistan flag - into the bat that he had, in turn, cut from a fence panel. By the end of the summer, he had been spotted playing in the school playground and recommended for trials at Warwickshire. By the time Pakistan returned, in 1987, he was watching in the stands wearing a Wasim Akram t-shirt.
Fast forward to May 1995. Playing his second first-class match, against Lancashire, he was grateful for the intervention of Akram. The pair had never spoken but, coming to the Warwickshire dressing room at stumps on the first day, Akram asked for a word with Wasim, who was opening the batting, and pointed out a flaw in his stance that made him susceptible to lbw dismissals. Wasim remedied the fault immediately and top-scored with 78 in the second innings.
"I should never have told you," Akram said with a smile as he trudged off at tea on the third day. He was one of the first to send a congratulatory text when this new role was confirmed. Shahid Afridi, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mickey Arthur and many more have done so, too.
We have international stadiums, great passion for the game. If we can get more foreign players coming to Pakistan, hopefully we can normalise playing in the country again
Wasim Khan
A while later, on New Year's Day 1997, Wasim found himself representing Pakistan. Well, almost anyway. He had been wintering in New Zealand, playing club cricket in Wellington, but had three weeks off over the festive period and decided to travel to Australia to watch Pakistan play. Having gained some complementary tickets from the team management, he was sitting just in front of the dressing rooms when he felt a tap on the shoulder just before the toss.
"They said they had some injuries in the camp," he recalls. "And they wondered if I could act as a substitute fielder if required. Ten minutes later I was in the team talk in the dressing room lapping up every word."
He eventually spent nine overs in the field, wearing Mohammad Zahid's shirt. So impressed were the team management that they asked him to take a fielding training session after the game.
For a long time, it seemed that would prove the extent of Wasim's involvement with Pakistan. Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, identified leadership skills that saw him installed as CEO of the Cricket Foundation - the organisation that runs the Chance to Shine charity - for the best part of a decade, before he was appointed as Leicestershire's chief executive in October 2014 - making him the first non-white CEO of a first-class county. He led the club to financial profits in his first three years in charge (though they will declare a loss this year) and oversaw some progress on the pitch.
But then, in September, Wasim emailed Ehsan Mani - whom he had never met - to congratulate him on his appointment as PCB chairman and offer his services. Within days, the pair had met for coffee, which led to an invite to apply for the role of PCB MD (to be changed to CEO following constitutional changes) in the coming weeks. There were 350 applications but, following interviews, Wasim was offered the job.
He might not have accepted, he says, had it not been for his confidence in those around him. He has great faith in Mani and PCB COO, Subhan Ahmed. He is also clearly a staunch supporter of Imran Khan, now the country's Prime Minister and who endorsed his appointment.
"We all want to professionalise and improve the game," he says. "I know that with people involved of that calibre, I will have the support to take tough decisions if necessary. I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't have those people around me. I'm confident we can together improve the perception of the PCB around the world."
Imran and Wasim are yet to meet, though. Well, not properly, anyway. "On that 1982 tour, I learned where the team were staying," Wasim says. "So I blagged a trip with someone I knew who was taking photographs at a dinner and remember going up to Imran, tapping him on the arm and offering a handshake. He looked at me, nodded and turned back to the people he was with."
So Wasim's passion for the role should not be doubted. But lots of people can offer enthusiasm. If he is to make a success of this position, he will have to turn that into something more tangible.
"I think there are three or four areas on which I will be judged," he says. "The first is restructuring domestic cricket in Pakistan, the second is seeing a return of more high-profile fixtures - particularly international fixtures - to the country and the third is rationalising the headcount at the PCB. Those are some of my main areas of focus."
Each of them is a mighty undertaking. And in both cutting the headcount of the PCB - currently understood to be around 900 - and restructuring domestic cricket, probably along regional grounds, he is likely to make a significant number of enemies.
"I'm not making decisions now," he says. "I'm not informed enough. But I don't doubt the contribution of many people and many organisations and I don't doubt that many of them will continue to play a part in the future.
"I want us to start with a vision of what we want domestic cricket to achieve. Then, once we have done that, we will decide what areas we need to improve or change in order to deliver that vision. Having a system whereby you move away from cricketers who play for Pakistan to a system which develops and nurtures Pakistan cricketers, is a subtle but important change in thinking.
"I will start by listening. And we won't be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But just because things have always been done in a certain way and just because some attitudes are entrenched does not mean change wouldn't be beneficial."
He is positive about bringing more international cricket back to Pakistan. On his return to Lahore, his first visit to the city in 10 years, he was struck by the many restaurant chains familiar to cities around the world. He was also impressed by the Gaddafi stadium which he described as being of the "highest quality in terms of its infrastructure and facilities".
"A lot of the problem is a perception issue," he says. "I think some people expect Lahore to be a dusty and dry city where people live in ruins and there are security issues on a daily basis. It's obviously nothing like that. It has a café culture. It has all the shops and restaurants you would expect to see in any major international city and it has been largely incident free for a while now. Yes, there are challenges. But we have seen incidents in London and Paris, too, and few people have suggested we stop playing sport as a consequence."
A first step will be inviting Australia to play in Pakistan in March. They are currently scheduled to play a five-match ODI series in the UAE but Wasim hopes the conversations that Mani has already started with Australia might persuade them to play at least a couple of games in Pakistan. There is also talk of inviting Leicestershire to come on pre-season - an arrangement that would require sponsorship from the PCB - and a potential tour from an MCC team in the near future. England are next due in late 2022.
"I need to sit down with other boards and ask them: where are the gaps in our plans that worry you? he says. "What can we do to assure you? What do we need to persuade you to come back? I want to hear what concerns they have and find a way of meeting them.
"We have international stadiums. We have a great passion for the game. If we can get more foreign players coming to Pakistan more often, hopefully we can normalise playing in the country again.
"As things stand, there will be eight games in the next PSL played in Pakistan. We hope the number of foreign players coming to Pakistan will gradually increase and they will pass on their positive experiences to their team-mates.
"I want to sit down with my counterpart at the BCCI and see if I can improve that relationship," he adds. "But the complications go far beyond cricket and will require changes in thinking. I'd like to see Pakistan players welcomed into the IPL, though. That would be a big step."
There is another aspect to this. Wasim has been, for many years, something of a trailblazer in British sport. The first British-born Pakistani to be offered a county contract in 1990; the first non-white county chief executive; the only non-white chief executive currently running a professional sports club in Britain: he did it all. His departure leaves cricket - sport in general, maybe - dangerously underrepresented by the very community it says is reaching out to embrace. Might the ECB have done more to try to keep him?
"I think that's a harsh way of looking at it," he says. "Both Tom Harrison and Colin Graves understood how big an opportunity this was for me and wished me well with it. I think they put my future before their own needs. And I'm grateful for that.
"There's been some progress in terms of BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] inclusion, but more can always be done. More people from BAME communities need to be given a chance to work in positions of influence. More women, too; there's only one female chief executive [Lisa Pursehouse at Nottinghamshire] at the counties. Promotion must always take place based on merit, but equality of opportunity has to be an ideal to aim for."
You suspect he will be back to further that work. The Khans are not selling the family home in Birmingham and, in due course, when the ECB go looking for a new chief executive, Wasim's name will surely feature high on any shortlist.
He has mountains to climb in Pakistan first.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo