Beyond a boundary

Beyond a boundary
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is everyone’s favourite whipping boy.  Even those who have never picked up a ball or bat are passionate critics. The media is particularly virulent. Criticism for the sake of criticism is the name of the game. Facts are irrelevant. Stories are routinely concocted.  Character assassinations are par for the course. The worst detractors are ex-cricketers who fail to land plum jobs in the PCB because they are incompetent or unmerited. TV channel anchors are like batsmen in the last overs of a T20 match, constantly lashing out at the PCB with lusty abandon.

To be fair, however, to the naysayers, the PCB has much to answer for. It has been ruled by unaccountable generals, bureaucrats, judges and politicians who have treated it like a personal fiefdom, enjoying perks and privileges, squandering resources and promoting favouritism. The audited account of the financial misdemeanours of ex-PCB Chairman Zaka Ashraf, a feudal PPP politician-sugar mill owner facing serious corruption charges, runs into several pages. The few cricketers who have wielded power in the PCB haven’t done much better at management.

Other problems also beset cricket in Pakistan. The domestic cricket structure is out of tune with international best practices. It is not geared to harness the river of cricketing talent in the country and hone it. The “Departments” pick up the crème-de-la-crème of players from regional cricket associations but do nothing to promote the game at the grass roots level. School cricket, which is the backbone of the game all over the cricketing world, has all but vanished from Pakistan. The regional, district and zonal structures are half-baked nurseries rife with corrupt practices and ghost clubs. Half the first-class matches in the country are actually second-class fixtures that only serve to boost players’ averages but ill-equip them to play international cricket. Worse, the regulatory bodies of the PCB, like the club scrutiny committees, selection committees and election tribunals, are riddled with corrupt practices. Worst, the whimsical intervention of the courts to redress imagined or contrived wrongs are perennial logjams in the working of the PCB.

Unfortunately the cricket-loving public is also part of the problem. It only sees heroes and villains. When Team Pakistan wins, it is passionately lauded and generously rewarded. When it loses, it is kicked to the ground. Players receive the same treatment. The PCB gets the worst of both worlds – when the team wins, the players are congratulated; when it loses, the PCB is abused. Hardly an occasion goes by when someone or the other on TV isn’t calling for the resignation of the Chairman or the sacking of the Captain, Coach, Manager or Chief Selector of the national cricket team. This is the main cause of instability and uncertainty in Pakistan cricket.

Last but not least, there is a serious problem with the mental make-up of cricketers. Most are a product of the chaotic and unruly street rather than the regulated school. This means they are largely uneducated and unable to grasp the fine points of cricketing rules, coaching advisories, etiquette, manners, team spirit and discipline. Each player is a universe unto himself, with inflated egos or psychological problems. This is a nightmare for the professional coach or manager.

Big money is the boon and bane of cricket. It is the powerful magnet that feeds the imagination of youngsters and propels them to obsess about cricket. It is also the devil that lures them into match fixing, betting and gambling. Consequently, Pakistan has more than its share of tainted cricketers, unruly umpiring and dubious match practices.

But Pakistani cricket isn’t doomed to languish at the bottom of the leagues. Here is a ten point agenda that shows the way forward.

(1) Revive school cricket to groom educated cricketers. (2) Reform domestic cricket in line with best international practises by upgrading regional cricket to inject a dose of sub-nationalism into it in order to attract crowds and sponsors. (3) Hire the best professionals in the game to organise and manage it. (4) Watch out for and clamp down on sifarish and favouritism in selection committees. (5) Revise cricketing calendars from top to bottom to reflect a quest for quality rather than quantity. (6) Devolve power from the PCB to the regions and improve the regulatory functions of the PCB. (7) Weed out corruption and mismanagement from the PCB. (8) Bring stability and certainty in the PCB by keeping government interference and court intervention to a minimum. (9) End Pakistan’s isolation in the ICC by signing lucrative foreign tours programs with all countries, especially India. (10) Appoint an educated, worldly-wise chief executive with managerial ability and organisational experience to run the PCB like a modern corporation instead of a greasy politician who treats it like a bloated and inefficient state utility meant for personal aggrandisement. This recipe reflects the abiding philosophy of the classic book “Beyond a Boundary” by CLR James: What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.