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Pakistan Cricket, PSL and Najam Sethi

August 17, 2017 
While we remain aware of the empty half of the glass, the filled half of the glass can not be left unappreciated. At the same time, the efforts of those who had put all they had on stake to fill whatever there is in the glass, can not be ignored either.

The summer of 2010 brought to Pakistan Cricket probably the darkest period of its history. Within a year of conquering the prestige of T20 Champions of the World, Pakistan Cricket experienced the embarrassment not only of its players getting caught under spot fixing charges but also its chairman getting forced to apologize and take back his allegations against the English team and the CEO of ICC, Haroon Lorgat.

In between, Pakistan Cricket experienced the shock of that infamous Sydney Test, saw a Pakistan Captain getting banned for biting the ball then getting appointed as the Test captain then leaving the team in the middle of a Test series, another captain getting caught for spot fixing, and seven of its top players, including four former captains receiving disciplinary fines and bans only to be reverted within a few weeks.

Here, the point of recalling the most dreadful period of Pakistan Cricket was not the same as it is commonly known for. While throughout all that soap opera of dark comedy in Pakistan Cricket when it was one player after another who was getting painted with the villainous shades, the role and the construct of the management of that time has gone astoundingly scrutiny-free.

While so much was going on within the Pakistan camp, the team was supervised, away from home, by Waqar Younis as the coach and Yawar Saeed as the manager. In the middle of that tumorous period, the baton of Chief Selector was passed on from Iqbal Qasim to Mohsin Hasan Khan. Then there was that manager to manage these ‘managers of men’, the chairman of the board, Mr Ijaz Butt. Waqar Younis, Iqbal Qasim and Mohsin Hasan Khan held more than enough experience of playing International Cricket, Yawar Saeed held more than enough experience of playing First Class Cricket and managing International teams on tour while Mr Ijaz Butt was a former International Cricketer himself.

The theater of Pakistan Cricket is full of Cricketers-cum-experts who believe that Cricket can only be managed by Cricketers themselves. While they remain ever ready to highlight the importance of talent, hard work and experience in becoming a top Cricketer, in the very next breath, they go on to discard the need of talent, hard work and experience of administration to administer Cricket. They make it sound like while it is important to go through a process of rigorous and relevant experience in the field to become a top Cricketer, the same process is not really required to become a Cricket administrator – or, just being good at playing Cricket is good enough to be a good Cricket administrator.

However, a man named Albert Einstein who never played Cricket, disagrees with this inference and once said, "No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it." This is probably the reason why some of the best Cricket administrators even in Pakistan were those who never played at professional level.

But with such a well-spread narrative, reinforced repeatedly by their beloved Crickets stars, the majority of the fans also adopts it as a theorem of Cricket administration. As a result, when any man with none or of lesser value credentials in Cricket steps into administration trails of Cricket, he is generally welcomed with skepticism and doubts. In a society where Cricketers are treated as bigger than Cricket itself, such administrators start their journey with a considerable handicap regardless of their talents and experience in the field of administration. Then, if that man also carries any political or ideological history, it makes his job as good as running a marathon in the middle of Tomatina Festival; that is, it will all be worth it only if he makes it beyond the finish line, or else, all he is going to get is enough of color and pulp, of the tomatoes, to lose even his previous identity. Something similar happened to Najam Sethi, the newly elected chairman of PCB.

Many believe that during that year of chaos, the spot-fixing saga of 2010 could have been handled much better only if PCB had reacted more professionally and tactfully by understanding and complying with International diplomacy and other environmental factors. PCB could have acted quicker and better to take control of the events. Instead of taking stock of situation, proactively, PCB literally slept over it. When ICC intervened, the then chairman PCB responded back with tit-for-tat allegations on English team for fixing matches and demanding resignation of Haroon Lorgat, the CEO of ICC at that time. If the embarrassment of finding its players caught under spot-fixing charges was not enough, the chairman of the board had to apologize and take back his allegations on English team and the ICC Chief.

If what players did was criminal, the ridiculous and childish behavior of chairman of PCB at the International level was no less either. Being a former International Cricketer, he probably had enough knowledge of playing Cricket but what he lacked was understanding of administrative, political and diplomatic aspects of managing an organization of the level of PCB and competence to fulfil its requirements.

Back in 2013, when Najam Sethi was asked to take over the reins of PCB, although he lacked any experience of Cricket administration, his resume sported multiple top level jobs in administration, including the Chief Minister of the biggest province in the country. He carried the experience of establishing and managing news and print publications as well as the experience of working professionally with the International organizations and syndicates. Surviving that difficult period in the late 90s also spoke volumes about his resilience and ability to steer out of unfavorable and hostile environments. Resilience, perseverance and prudence with a right combination of media management and international diplomacy skills was probably what was needed at that time for someone to lead Pakistan Cricket out of the international isolation that it found itself during that period.

However, considering the political clout associated with his public perception at that time, it looked like either he himself or someone else has set him up for a Skydive without a parachute. That musical chair, orchestrated by the honorable courts, between him and the incumbent chairman, Zaka Ashraf, couldn’t have provided any more challenging start to him. But to his credit, he neither backed out of accepting the challenge in the first place nor did he give in to the uncertain and hostile start. In the parallel universe, he remained a popular target of trolling and slur arising more out of political landscape of the country rather than his functioning at the PCB. If that was not enough, he also managed to continue his career in media as political analyst that further bolstered the stamp of being more a controversial figure rather than a competent one. In the ideal world, one has to be mad to venture in such fashion, and for sure, madness it was.

As Aristotle once said, “there is no great genius without some touch of madness”, it was his genius within that madness that facilitated Pakistan Cricket to break some of the most important barriers to propel it forward, and the transformation of Pakistan Super League from a wish to a reality is one of them.

Devoid of any Cricket on the home turf as well as exclusive exile from the world’s most lucrative Cricket affair – the IPL – Pakistan Cricket and players had started to lag behind in terms of experience of contemporary Cricket both on and off the field. Pakistan Cricket needed it, Pakistan players wanted it and Pakistan fans were dying for it but the concept of an International T20 league, where the involvement of Pakistanis is not of one odd member in the squad but the of the hosts in majority, remained a distant dream. Before Najam Sethi, as it is well known, PCB had attempted multiple times to install its own T20 league but failed every time. The reasons remained many and the challenges looked unsurmountable. Finally, it was that resilience and perseverance to the level of madness of Najam Sethi that turned out to be the vehicle on which the concept of PSL touched the finish line of reality.

The success of PSL has made people forget many of those challenges. UAE has become the adopted home of PSL but when the PSL was finally announced, not many remember now that, as a final attempt to deter the plans, UAE had excused from hosting the event in any of his grounds sighting unavailability of the grounds due to leagues like MCL. As a result, the first PSL was announced to be held in Qatar rather than the UAE. It was only after everyone realized that the mad man is determined to get PSL off and running that PSL found its home in the UAE.

PSL1 was welcomed with fair share of skepticism and doubts even by Pakistanis. Right from the award of franchises, to the not so glittery list of international players, to the players draft process, to the hosting of the matches, to the disastrous performance of the fan favorite sides, most of it was ruthlessly scrutinized until the skepticism started to turn into disbelief. Some declared it a fluke, some remained focused on countless things that could be improved. That kind of non-believing and negative response even after presenting a new reality in front of those critics would have been enough to get discouraged and give up for the best of optimists but it wasn’t enough for a mad man like Najam Sethi. It looked like he wasn’t bothered about all that negative feedback, instead, that very feedback was the fuel he needed to continue with his plans.

In his on-air conversation during the draft of PSL2, Najam Sethi clearly acknowledged all the shortcomings and all the areas of improvement. But it didn’t deter him from his knack of playing with the challenges. If repeating ‘the fluke’ was not challenging enough for him, he announced the Final to be hosted in Lahore. Considering the environment, it was one daring step to announce that decision not at the last moment but well in advance. The skeptics remained skeptical and some even criticized the decision of hosting PSL2 Final in Lahore.

Yours truly was also one of those skeptics; even went on to declare it as an emotional blunder as the title of one of the articles on that subject (click here to read the article). At that time, I believed that the decision of hosting just one match in Pakistan was wrong. I felt, it was going to be counterproductive, it will dampen the glitter of the PSL, the Final would be of lesser quality (which it eventually was) and as a result international players and fans will lose interest in it. However, today, I feel no hesitation to concede that I was wrong. I feel delighted to be proven wrong and the credit goes to that mad man whose madness turned out to be stroke of genius. It is that Final that has paved the way for the return of International Cricket to Pakistan.

There can’t be any better service to Pakistan Cricket than bringing International Cricket to Pakistan and PSL has provided that neatly crafted bridge for it. The bridge that first reconnected Pakistan Cricket with International Cricketers who gradually turned into ambassadors of Pakistan Cricket and that is what has fueled the gradual return of International Cricket to Pakistan. On the outset, it all looked nothing but madness but there was a certain method to that madness that is turning out to be a genius plan. It looked like someone had handed out a different plan to Najam Sethi and he was reading the future from that script.

Regardless of when International Cricket returns to Pakistan and to what extent, the encouraging fact is that it is progressing in the right direction. From a major Cricketing nation to a ‘Cricketing untouchable’, the kind of puddle Pakistan Cricket had slipped into, it needed unconventional measures and unconventional mindset to come out of it for ‘no problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it’. The amount of criticism and bashing that Najam Sethi has received in the past for every mistake and fault of the board – regardless, if he had any role in it or not – it is only fair to also give the credit of all the right things and achievements to Najam Sethi with at least the same intensity.

Meanwhile, PSL has become an undeniable reality. Still, there is a lot to be improved and corrected with PSL. Still a lot needs to be done to ensure its fruits reaches to the lowest levels of Cricket in Pakistan. A lot still needs to be done about its structure, rules and procedures. But while we remain aware of the empty half of the glass, the filled half of the glass can not be left unappreciated. At the same time, the efforts of those who had put all they had on stake to fill whatever there is in the glass, can not be ignored either. Najam Sethi with all his limitations, perceptions, challenges and errors has made it a reality for which he deserves a lot of credit and a special thanks on behalf of the fans and well-wishers of Pakistan Cricket.

With Najam Sethi elected as the chairman of PCB for the next three years, we can expect the same resilience and perseverance to bring better and greater benefits for Pakistan Cricket. Best wishes for the new chairman and Pakistan Cricket for the future. 

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