When Ijaz Butt left office, there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, that light is fading fast. It’s not sunset yet, but the way out seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Hope is turning into worry and despair as Pakistan cricket — off the field — is sinking deeper. Zaka Ashraf continues to seek salvation in a bilateral series despite calling his reluctant opponents brothers, cowards and brothers again. His gifts for the people back home from his repeated visits to India are plain, empty boxes.
But now, after his umpteenth foreign trip, Zaka returns with a sad, but obvious, statement: no one is willing to come to Pakistan. Since day one, he’s been harping on about the resumption of international cricket, not realising that the law-and-order situation was not in the board’s hands. He’s invested time, money and effort into making ludicrous claims, but forgot about the affairs of domestic cricket and issues within the team. In line with his political appointment, talk and no action seems to have become a norm. So repeated and recurring are his press conferences that even a “Coke Studio” overdose smells like freshly baked bread. But kudos to the chairman for asking reporters if they liked his press conference — after all, that is the only event that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has organised in a long time.
Apart from the repeated promises of a Pakistan-India series and an eerie obsession with copying the Indian Premier League, Zaka should at least know how his first-class cricketers are faring. He harps on about the Pakistan Premier League, fully knowing that the domestic structure is falling apart. Players yearn for respectable earnings that would actually bring more devotion to the pool. A committee was formed to review the state of cricket in the country but he’s had no time to review its recommendations. Instead of repairing the existing Test centres, he announced the foundation for a new one, despite no international teams visiting and the limited finances needing to be carefully utilised — a Rs700 million deficit budget was recently passed.
The PCB also increased its pool of contracted players. The reason, apart from its own, ‘we care about the players’ welfare’, might take the form of a tight leash, one that would force the players to have it the board’s way. The Shahid Afridi saga, when he was denied an NOC to play for Hampshire last year, is still fresh. While the all-rounder was to be blamed, too, no player should dare to stand up against his employers was the message blurted out. The Sri Lanka Premier League is imminent. By ensuring that a larger pool of domestic performers seek their employer’s consent, the PCB, indeed, will be pulling the strings. Dealings at board-level will gather force and it stands to earn more than what it does right now. Negotiations are already underway, making Pakistani players’ presence in Sri Lanka and the Bangladesh leagues, a reciprocal deal. However, judging by Bangladesh’s recent late u-turn and the reluctance of others to visit, foreign players taking part in a Pakistani league seems a distant possibility. And so does the league itself.
And while Zaka’s antics, including his ‘rate my interview’ act, continue to humour all, the decline continues. A frequent change at helm is never advisable despite the freebies that a selection, and not election, brings with it. Will the hopes, the trips and an ineffectual leader help Pakistan cricket rise from the shambles it currently finds itself in?
Looking at the job at hand, you’d have to be a Newcastle United supporter to believe in that.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.
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