Zaka Ashraf: Another sad change in Pakistan cricket leadership
Better was expected from Zaka Ashraf after Ijaz Butt's tenure, but he has already made several bad decisions.
A change in leadership is needed. No, I’m not referring to the upcoming elections, nor am I talking about our favourite pantomime villain Misbahul Haq. I am in fact, referring to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairperson Zaka Ashraf, our supposed saviour from the tyranny of Ijaz Butt.
So focused, it seems, are we on Ijaz Butt’s disastrous tenure that we fail to see the many failures of Zaka Ashraf and his lack of achievements. However, this article is not a comparison between the two; it only deals with the latter and his regime.
A fresh start
Although the PCB was riddled with problems at the time, Zaka Ashraf came to the fore with a plethora of goodwill, just for replacing the much maligned Ijaz Butt. He had the chance to start afresh and to get to the root of problems plaguing Pakistan cricket. Instead, he made regressive decisions that continue to hurt it.
One of his first acts was the establishment of a new selection committee. Rather than appointing someone new or with a proven track record, he reverted to a selection committee that had served and failed under Ijaz Butt’s tenure with Iqbal Qasim as its head. It was this same committee that had been responsible for the dreadful second half of 2009 during which Pakistan failed to win a single series and included the abysmal tour of Australia. Though their second run has been better (it was still largely responsible for the whitewash received at the hands of South Africa), many of the same issues still remain such as inconsistencies, failure to promote youngsters and preference of the so called ‘big names’.
Not only did the chairman bring back Iqbal Qasim, who was also part of the selection committee for the 2007 World Cup failure, but even people such as Intikhab Alam (Director of National Academy) continue to play a central role in the functioning of Pakistan Cricket.
Despite repeated failures with previous regimes, Intikhab Alam continues to be a significant figure and his inefficiencies and politics remain cancerous to Pakistan cricket. Moreover the appointment of Dav Whatmore as head coach was ill-timed at best after Pakistan’s whitewash of England and has borne mixed results for the team thus far.
Return of international cricket
One situation where it seemed impossible to blame Zaka Ashraf, owing to the deteriorating security situation in the country, was the restoration of international cricket in Pakistan. Yet, the way the PCB tried to bully the Bangladesh Cricket Board into sending their team to Pakistan was embarrassing for all concerned. As a result of this fiasco, the Pakistani players were not allowed to play in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). Already starved of the riches of the Indian Premier League (IPL), it was a shame that our underpaid talents were forced to sacrifice a healthy source of income, because the PCB’s, and more importantly, Zaka Ashraf’s pride was hurt and after all the drama. There are still no signs of International cricket returning to Pakistan anytime soon.
Pakistan Super League (PSL)
The PSL was supposed to compensate for the loss of income from the BPL for these players. Yet again, Zaka Ashraf failed to deliver on his promise and we stand here still without a professional T20 league behind even the West Indies and their Caribbean Premier League.
It was going to be hard for the PSL to attract star names as it was, with the security situation deteriorating, but the idea to hold the league around the same time as the elections was imprudent to say the least.
What was even more worrying was the lack of organisation and management that was present in the process. The PCB had failed to raise sufficient interest for the acquisition of franchises which led to a last minute scramble to seek investors while the format of the event itself left much to be desired. Hence, the PSL was met with great scepticism and has lost its credibility before it has even begun with its inevitable ‘postponement’.
Future tours programme
While much of the focus will presently be on the Champions Trophy squad and the exclusion of Shahid Afridi, there was another piece of news that came out regarding Pakistan cricket that should be of more concern. It was announced that the Test series scheduled to be held in July has been scrapped to be replaced by five One Day Innings (ODIs) and two T20’s.
Pakistan cricket’s need for test cricket is well documented with only six Tests played in 2012. The recent shortcomings in the whitewash by South Africa only further emphasised our need to play more Test cricket.
Despite this, the PCB prioritised a few cheap T20’s and ODIs over the much-needed Test matches as PCB had backed itself into a corner after refusing to reschedule the series to August since they had plans to host India during that month. Not even the most delusional amongst us would expect India to tour Pakistan in August and this also brings us to our next failure.
While on the surface, the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan was a positive step, it came at a price for Pakistan cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) still owed the Pakistan cricket team two tours, yet we agreed to play in India without an agreement on a return tour even at a neutral venue. In cricket, tours are carried out on the basis of reciprocity however we are still no closer to hosting India than we were before the tour and all it seems to have done is fill the coffers for the Indian Board while ours remain relatively empty.
At the home front
Finally, on the domestic front, our first-class cricket remains in dire straits. The format of two different first-class tournaments certainly proved to be a case a quantity over quality.
While Peter Moores was hired as a consultant to improve the domestic structure, we are still no closer to finalising an efficient system which can produce world class players. Furthermore, another important mechanism in producing players for the national team is the ‘A’ team. However, under Zaka Ashraf’s tenure, the number of tours by the Pakistan ‘A’ team stands at a staggering zero.
It must not be surprising then that our batsmen fail to perform in England or South Africa or when any youngsters fail to come through to the national team. Yet this vital component in preparing youngsters for international cricket does not seem high on the agenda for the chairman and Pakistan cricket is suffering as a result.
We may have celebrated the departure of Ijaz Butt, but had we known what was in store, we may have celebrated with more caution. For years the people have yearned for a person of a corporate background to head the PCB, and while Zaka Ashraf seemed like one, we must not fool ourselves into thinking he is anything but a political appointment.
Even his Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) background must be treated with caution as he did indeed fail the ‘fit and proper’ test of the State Bank of Pakistan yet was allowed to continue in his post.
Pakistan cricket is at a crucial juncture and requires a strong leader to guide it through this phase not one that surrounds himself with yes men and milks the plaudits of his superficial success while sweeping the grave failures under the carpet.
We need a chairman who, while has a corporate background, still understands the intricacies of world cricket. Pakistan is lucky enough to have one such individual in Ehsan Mani.
One can only hope.