LAHORE: When Nawaz Sharif and his party won the general elections last year, it was written on the wall that there would be changes in the administration at the federal and provincial levels. And Pakistan cricket was no exception. Though Zaka Ashraf got himself elected as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman before the general elections but he should have realised that his days were numbered as the PCB chief once Nawaz came to power. But he was living in a fool’s paradise. Every new government, either at the provincial or federal levels, always brings in their own ‘buddies’ or persons who they want to ‘oblige’ at the helm of affairs whether the previous ones are delivering and working with dedication and diligently. Poor Zaka Ashraf was unable to see his fate that was very loud and clear. He perhaps forgot that he was appointed by former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and had an altercation with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sahrif during the Zardari Government tenure. The Nawaz Government’s ‘pressure tactic’ of getting rid of Zaka Ashraf through National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is just not cricket.
People of this ‘land of the pure’ are bewildered why these unpleasant incidents and extreme situations kept on recurring and why controversies simply refused to spare Pakistan cricket. Perhaps they still not have realised by now that both in the national sphere and the sporting arena the root of our dilemma is the notorious system of patronage and imposed cronies, to the exclusion of merit and professionalism. Under the powerful patron’s benevolent gaze, the pick and choose appointees can survive scandals and failures that would crush an ordinary mortal.
The PCB chairmanship has been a topic of controversy ever since the board’s inception in 1948, with the ruling political party of the day generally giving the post to one of its supporters. But the way the present government is handling the Pakistan cricket affairs and has ‘thrusted’ its favourite and senior journalist-cum-analyst Najam Aziz Sethi has not only raised many an eyebrow but also is in bad taste. In fact the government has shown its clumsiness in dealing with Pakistan cricket. A game of musical chairs is being played with Pakistan cricket. Former Pakistan captain turned politician Imran Khan has rightly lashed out at Najam Sethi, saying he has been ‘rewarded’ for helping the ruling party commit fraud in last year’s general elections.
Zaka Ashraf was reinstated as the PCB chairman last month by the Islamabad High Court after filing an appeal against his dismissal by a single bench of the same court in May last year. The single bench had declared the election process during which Zaka Ashraf was elected last year as ‘malafide’ and ‘polluted’ and dismissed him, following which the government appointed Najam Sethi as acting chairman. But Najam Sethi’s tenure hit a snag after another court ruling curtailed his powers.
But on Monday last, Prime Minister Nawaz, who has amended the rules to become patron of the PCB in place of President of Pakistan, dissolved the PCB governing council and appointed an 8-member ad-hoc committee to run the affairs of sport. The Prime Minister also directed the committee to pick a PCB chairman from among its eight members and it chose Najam Sethi. Following an order from the Prime Minister, Zaka Ashraf was removed as the PCB chief and Najam Sethi has once again taken over as Pakistan cricket boss.
The reasons for Zaka Ashraf’s removal are known to all and sundry. The ruling Government is not interested in a person running Pakistan cricket who was appointed by the previous Government even if he is performing well. Sources told Daily Times that the government never wanted Zaka Ashraf at the PCB and removed him on a lame excuse, alleging that his (Zaka Ashraf) ‘failure to give Pakistan a strong voice’ at a crucial International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting in Singapore last Saturday. The world body approved a controversial revamp at the meeting, which gave major powers and revenues to the so-called ‘Big Three’ of world cricket – India, Australia and England. “The charges include that Zaka Ashraf left Pakistan isolated in world cricket with his mishandling of the big three issue and there were also financial mismanagement and appointments in his tenure. But this is not correct,” added the sources. Pakistan and Sri Lanka abstained from voting on last Saturday when the International Cricket Council (ICC) board passed structural and financial reforms to effective place India, England and Australia in charge of the game.
The malafide of the government in destroying Pakistan cricket can also been seen when it amended the Paragraph 41 of the constitution. According to the constitution, the patron could only supersede the PCB in case of ‘grave financial irregularities’. That clause was amended to be less specific and include more general mismanagement. Sources said that after the general elections Najam Sethi wanted to become Ambassador in USA or High Commissioner in United Kingdom. But the Nawaz Government offered Najam Sethi chairmanship of the PCB, which is more ‘lucrative and important’. Employee of a private TV channel, Najam Sethi’s first tenure as caretaker chairman was not without controversies. The sale of PCB broadcast rights for the forthcoming Sri Lanka and South Africa series played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was not transparent, and many administrative decisions taken by Najam Sethi and company received flak from all and sundry.
It is pertinent to mention here that before Zaka Ashraf was reinstated, Najam Sethi attended the ICC executive board meeting and the issue of ICC revamp was discussed. Yet the policy of remaining subservient to India was followed and it seems even patron was not apprised of the dangers looming, or else he also was in agreement. Whereas Zaka Ashraf pleaded the case of Pakistan very strongly. Sources said that Najam Sethi may be a good political analyst but he can’t run Pakistan cricket in an effective manner. After taking over on last Monday, the Najam Sethi-led PCB denounced a majority of the decisions taken by Zaka Ashraf since he came to power last month. “The decisions of Zaka Ashraf were wise but Najam Sethi had his own designs. And it seems that Pakistan cricket is heading towards disaster,” added the sources.
Pakistan cricket needs stability but we are not a nation of sage souls. The Government should have respected the decision of the court and allowed Zaka Ashraf complete his term. Pakistan cricket remained embroiled in legal entanglements in the year 2013, with the court orders keeping the sport on its toes. Nothing, perhaps, sums up the contradictions of Pakistan cricket, and the abyss into which it descended in the last one year.
Zaka Ashraf’s restoration was hailed by the ICC and other cricket boards of the world, a clear indication that Zaka Ashraf commands respect in the comity of Test playing nations. When Zaka Ashraf was appointed as the PCB chief, replacing ‘buffoon’ Ijaz Butt, the people of this land of the pure heaved a sigh of relief. Zaka Ashraf not brought good luck but also stability to Pakistan cricket with him. When Zaka Ashraf took over, many had their doubts about his credentials. With little or no cricketing experience, Zaka Ashraf was installed as the PCB chief at a time when Pakistan cricket was at its lowest ebb. He had succeeded Ijaz Butt, the man who made Pakistan cricket a big joke and a mess. Under Ijaz Butt, Pakistan cricket saw worst tragedies and the operational showing of the PCB remained under the spotlight, with loads of criticism coming from almost every quarter including the ICC. All of this condemnation was, indeed, justified.
A top job always requires good administrator. Some of the best heads of the PCB were not former cricketers but people with good managerial background. Running cricket is not rocket science, just the use of the rarest of qualities and common sense. The patron needs to take note of dangers facing Pakistan cricket and use his powers to appoint a man with integrity, international stature, well versed in the ICC affairs as head of the PCB, and not a person who has ‘other interests’ and ‘dual roles’. It is a fallacy that Najam Sethi will put Pakistan cricket on the right track. The saner elements in the country not only want Pakistan cricket to come out of the mire, but also need some respite from this unending deluge of miserable drama in the PCB, which has plunged it to the lowest ebb. But with the game of musical chairs and Najam Sethi at the helm of affairs, the circus in Pakistan cricket will continue unabated. No doubt, the future of Pakistan cricket looks bleak.
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