x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Uncertainty around Pakistan cricket

Another administrative storm is having its effect on Pakistan cricket team before West Indies tour.

Shoaib Malik may have trouble finding a spot on the next Pakistan cricket team. Lakruwan Wanniaraachchi / AFP
Shoaib Malik may have trouble finding a spot on the next Pakistan cricket team. Lakruwan Wanniaraachchi / AFP

Maybe it is because there is always some other more compelling bit of news from Pakistan.

Maybe it is because it has happened so many times before all reasonable or unreasonable reaction has been exhausted.

Maybe the burlesque administration of Ijaz Butt has inoculated everyone.

Or maybe it is just because it has happened in a haze of legal grey that is not easy to completely understand.

In any case, the latest bout of administrative instability in Pakistan cricket seems to be passing in strangely low-key fashion.

A sitting board chairman has been removed: there is no way to couch this so it has less impact. It will be no consolation to Zaka Ashraf that he was ousted in a voguish manner, by a judicial coup from the Islamabad High Court.

A petition was filed against Ashraf's admittedly dubious "election" – extension or confirmation, really – as chairman for another four years in May, conducted in secret and days before the country went to general elections.

Ashraf was duly suspended and a government body asked to provide an interim replacement; Najam Sethi, a senior journalist, but lately a plug for administrative holes is the unlikely and temporary result of these shenanigans.

He has not been in a week and somebody already wants to file a petition against his interim appointment.

Nobody is sure whether what happened was right or wrong, or whether it happened through the right process.

Objections to Ashraf's election are valid enough but whether a court can empower someone other than the president of the country (and patron of the board) to install a chairman is not clear.

In less doubt are two things.

One, that this is the outcome of relatively low-stakes political sparring between the Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister, and Asif Ali Zardari, the incumbent president. And two, there is little chance Ashraf will be remembered as the martyr the political party he is a member of is so fond of creating.

The board, and Pakistan cricket generally, is stuck, not moving, and not knowing which direction to move in.

The extent of just how much up in the air everything is right now is evident in a recent conversation with an official: everybody is worried about their job, from senior management to captains to selectors to players. Nobody knows whether they will be kept on or booted out, either in Sethi's time, or when he enables a permanent successor.

That may well sound about par for the course for any recent administration. But matters are in urgent need of attention, foremost the team's regeneration. Entire reconstruction is not needed, but in less than two weeks Pakistan will tour West Indies for a limited-overs series and that should (but probably will not) mark the start of their road to the next World Twenty20, in 2014, and the World Cup the year after.

No substantive discussions have taken place on the next squad. Kamran Akmal, Imran Farhat, Shoaib Malik; one or two, if not all three will not make it. None of them should be in it and should not have been in it for the Champions Trophy. Though a collaborative decision for which all stakeholders should take the blame, Misbah-ul-Haq's role in pushing for them should be open for greater criticism.

The question of Misbah's own captaincy needs resolution sooner rather than later. Set aside concerns that he may be too powerful (historically Pakistan captains thrive the more power they have) but will he be around for the 2015 World Cup, when he will be nearing 41? He is batting more fluently than for many years but at this age any slight dip in form snowballs and is magnified a hundred times over.

Even more important is the impending renewal of the board's broadcast deal. This is the first television deal the board will sign in its exile, where Pakistan does not play its cricket at home anymore. (Their last five-year deal was finalised in 2008, before the Sri Lanka terror attack in Lahore.)

How the Pakistan Cricket Board cushions the financial hit of not playing at home for the foreseeable future, factoring in the greater costs of "hosting" outside Pakistan, is dependent almost entirely on the kind of deal they sign now.

Several broadcasters were in the running and given that the current contract expires this summer, talks must be advanced by now. Now they will continue and conclude, perhaps under an interim head who may be here three months from now, or who may not be here two weeks from now. It is not the ideal position from which to negotiate what is such a critical deal for the board.

Under normal circumstances, with Pakistan playing at home, it would be easy to be blase about this kind of impasse. In different guises it has happened before. It is the way it is. But in the environment Pakistan finds itself in just now, these are precisely the kind of months and pauses in leadership in which the fruits from even the briefest period of stability can be interminably soured.


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