PCB challenges

PCB challenges
A host of TV naysayers had advised the Pakistan Cricket Board to book the return flight of the Pakistan cricket team immediately after it lost to India in the opening match of the Champions Trophy in England last June. One TV commentator, an ex-captain of Pakistan, was so disgusted that he demanded PCB be disbanded, its domestic and international tournaments be cancelled and its management, selectors and coaches all be sent packing. Two months later, however, the “nation” is still celebrating Pakistan’s heroic win over hot-favourite but arch-enemy India to grab the coveted Champions Trophy. How did this cricketing “revival” come about? What are the obstacles in its path?

The single most important development in Pakistan’s cricket history since winning the World Cup in 1992 has been the Pakistan Super League. For eight years, three PCB Chairmen tried to launch it and failed. Today it is a resounding success. It has revived PCB’s fortunes in three significant ways. First, it has dug up a wellspring of fresh talent that was on scintillating display recently. Second it has enabled our youngsters to rub shoulders with and play against the top international players of the world in a high-pressure environment, a learning experience of immense value. Third, the profits from PSL are poised to become a major independent source of PCB funding equivalent to nearly 50% of PCB revenues from the ICC, which means more funding for cricket development in the country. But PSL is already threatened on two counts.

For PSL to become a truly dynamic and self-sustaining force, it must be played in Pakistan. The UAE is a very expensive venue. Ticket sales are insignificant. Local sponsors non-existent. But periodic acts of terrorism at home make this a difficult objective. That is why the Final in Lahore last March was an extraordinary achievement. But the task ahead is daunting. Whenever a bomb goes off in Lahore or Karachi, PCB’s hard work in trying to convince international players and cricketing bodies that Pakistan is safe to play goes up in a pall of smoke.

PSL is also threatened by powerful vested interests. Disgruntled ex-employees of PCB and perennially blackmailing job seekers are constantly dragging the PCB to court on frivolous grounds. Currently, PSL faces “inquiries” in NAB and FIA sponsored by such complainants despite the fact of highly intensive and independent internal and external audit procedures. In fact, instead of protecting a valuable national asset, parliamentary sports watchdog committees are riven by party political differences which spill over into undue criticism of PCB which is a statutory body of the federal government. Now attempts are underway in the courts to destabilize PCB by challenging the constitutional transition to a new elected Board of Governors and Chairman of PCB for the next three years. If this is disrupted, we can say goodbye to PCB’s efforts to bring PSL and international cricket back to Pakistan and revive cricket in the country.

Pakistan cricket is also threatened by greed and corruption. The recent spot fixing in the PSL involving a clutch of players would have wrecked PSL if the evil hadn’t been nipped in the bud. Yet a section of the media and ex-cricketers’ establishment seem to display more sympathy for the crooks than for their prosecutors. This is remarkable in view of the constant refrain from much the same sort of critics that if the Justice Qayyum Report of a decade ago had been ruthlessly implemented by the PCB and the errant cricketers rooted out, this corrupt practice would never have reared its ugly head again. Indeed, the very success of PSL makes it a potential high value target for bookies which necessitates a zero-tolerance policy by the PCB based on strict and swift punishments. But instead of supporting PCB, sections of the media are hell-bent on thwarting its anti-corruption squad.

Negative Indo-Pak relations have also adversely impacted the PCB. The BCCI is refusing to honour an eight-year contract for six bilateral series which were expected to yield over Rs 150 billion to PCB. It says the Modi government has stopped it from playing Pakistan at home or abroad. But by dragging politics into cricket, the Modi government is doing a great disservice to a game beloved of billions. The money from these series with India is earmarked for the development of cricket academies and stadiums across Pakistan and its loss is a huge blow for the PCB which receives no funding from the government.

The challenges ahead for the PCB are formidable. A necessary condition is stability of the management that has produced a successful “Made in Pakistan” brand like PSL, which has cobbled a successful coaching and selection squad behind a resurgent, “new look and new feel” Pakistan team, which is attacking corruption, and which is reforming the domestic cricket structure. If we can ask BCCI to keep politics out of bilateral cricket, we should demand the same from vested political interests at home.

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.