Supreme Court restores Sethi as soap opera continues in Pakistan cricket

LAHORE: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday restored Najam Aziz Sethi as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) just four days after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had reinstated his predecessor Zaka Ashraf as head of the organisation. The SC suspended an IHC ruling that had removed Sethi, annulled all decisions made under his management and reinstated Ashraf. Saturday’s ruling had thrown all appointments of new head coach Waqar Younis, batting coach Grant Flower and spin coach Mushtaq Ahmad, all made under Sethi, into doubt. A three-member SC bench - headed by Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali - accepted the federal government’s Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) plea yesterday and called all the parties involved for a hearing on May 27.

This is the latest twist in a legal saga dogging the game. The chairmanship has been a topic of controversy ever since the cricket board’s inception in 1948. The ruling political party of the day in the cricket-crazy country generally gives the post to one of its supporters. Court orders and government decrees have now seen the leadership of the PCB change hands between Sethi and Ashraf five times in the past year. The musical chairs have come at a time when cricket’s world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), is undergoing major changes, leading many to fear Pakistan’s interests are not being properly represented.

The IPC Ministry, which oversees sports affairs in Pakistan, stated in its plea the IHC’s order to reinstate Ashraf was detrimental to Pakistan cricket and would begin a “chain of events that will create immense chaos and destruction, costing millions and millions of rupees. All reforms towards election, constitution making, and international commitments will be at peril.” In February, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is also the PCB patron, installed a committee headed by Sethi to run the board temporarily. The aim was for the committee to draw up changes to the PCB constitution to make it more democratic and hold elections for the post of chairman - and thereby bring an end to the battles in the courts. This plan was thrown into disarray by Saturday’s ruling but Wednesday’s Supreme Court order means all the decisions taken by Sethi are now valid.

“It is not a decision but a stay order and we will be vigorously pursuing this case because I am the legally elected chairman of the board,” Ashraf told reporters in Lahore. Ashraf added he would personally state the facts before the apex court, adding that Pakistan cricket needed stability and a clear direction. The Sethi-led board had accused Ashraf of widespread mismanagement and misuse of funds in an audited report. On the other hand, Sethi said he was appointed by the government to reorganise the board on professional lines and had a constitution which was democratic and not giving absolute powers to the chairman. Sethi, a veteran journalist who also served as caretaker chief minister of Punjab before last year’s general election, insisted had no desire to run the PCB long-term. “I have no intention to stay on much longer as chairman except for the period given to me by the government. I just want to stabilise Pakistan cricket affairs and make it more professional,” he told reporters after the Supreme Court order. He said he wanted to hold elections for the board and chairman by June 9.

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