I must admit that during my stint with Pakistan Cricket Board as Director Human Resources and Administration, there was hardly a dull moment. Each new day would bear some bad news, controversies, and challenges.
It was during the winter of 2006, Pakistan team had just departed to India to participate in Champions Trophy. Like the rest of the nation, we at PCB had high hopes that our team would fare well in the tournament. Everyone was in high spirits, and had pinned their hopes on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. The duo was at their prime and posed a genuine threat to any batting line up in the tournament.
One fine morning as I reached the office, I was told that both Shoaib and Asif have failed the fitness test and are being recalled. Everyone was in a shock. The recall of Pakistan’s two premier fast bowlers meant a diminished chances of making it to the final four, let alone win the tournament. Everyone took it with a pinch of salt and went about their official business. It was only upon their arrival, that I found out that both bowlers went through a routine random urine test. Nothing unusual with that, players are routinely checked for use of contrabands by ICC.
What surprised me was that they were recalled before the test results were to be made public. My guess at the time was that one of the bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar in all likelihood had called PCB management. He must have shared that there was strong possibility that results would be return positive and they would end up facing ban by ICC. It turned out that, the then Chairman PCB, Dr. Nasim Ashraf decided to adopt Cricket Australia’s model when CA recalled Shane Warne who had tested positive for use of contraband during 2003 World Cup. PCB would handle the matter internally was the message sent out to the world cricketing bodies.
PCB immediately constituted a three-man tribunal comprising barrister Shahid Hamid, the former captain Intikhab Alam and Waqar Ahmed, a medical expert, had conducted an inquiry. Shoaib was handed over a two-year ban whereas Asif got away with a one-year ban.
The tribunal conceded that both the players has a right to appeal against the verdict, and if they do appeal a separate tribunal would be constituted to hear the appeal. That was a master stroke by Chairman Dr. Nasim Ashraf. Pakistan, he believed could not afford to lose two of its best bowlers for the upcoming World Cup. The ‘banned’ duo went underground not to be seen in public for the next month or so.
Later on we learnt that PCB had them checked in a prestigious hospital to have them cleansed. It was during the South Africa tour of Pakistan, that I saw Mohammad Asif. He was chipper and looked happy. To cut the long story short, fresh samples were submitted to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) nominated lab and the results came back negative. No surprises there, the ban on both players was declared null and void by the appellate tribunal and everyone went on with their official business.
There was nothing unusual about the way PCB had managed to let the two players off the hook. Having spent more than two decades in Corporate Sector, there have been many instances where the management covered up for the mess created by the employees, with one minor difference: No let off the second time around. PCB and players who are virtually worshipped by the masses are a different breed altogether.
As I recall, Chairman, Dr. Nasim Ashraf had stayed back in Lahore over the weekend and was to be briefed by us on the preparation for upcoming Asia Cup to be held in Pakistan. It was hot June day but the temperature in the meeting room was more than comfortable. We were about to break for lunch, when the then Director Marketing walked up to the Chairman and whispered something in his ear. It is worth mentioning here, that it is considered rude to whisper in someone’s ear during a meeting, especially for a person like our Chairman with deep-rooted Western ethos.
The Chairman was visibly annoyed and loudly said, “Why are you whispering in my ear”, he then pointed at me and said “you need to discuss this matter with Director Administration who is sitting right there!” As it turned out that Mohammad Asif, had been detained by Dubai Police on charges of possessing illegal drugs. A brief discussion ensued and I was asked to fly to Dubai and pursue the matters. Our Liaison Officer was instructed to secure a visa for me on an emergent basis.
Meanwhile, the Chairman asked the team members to leave the room. If I recall it correctly, it was myself, Chairman and most probably Director Marketing who remained while the rest left. Dr. Nasim Ashraf picked up the phone and dialed a number. Introductions were made followed by silence and then I heard Dr. Nasim Ashraf say “Your Excellency, this is probably the most embarrassing phone call I have ever made in my life”, and he went on to explain what had happened in Dubai and asked in a solicitous manner for ‘his’ support in the matter. It was obvious that the person on the other end was none other than the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Chairman’s personal friend. Needless to say that Chairman’s face had turned crimson as he ended his conversation.
A man of few words, Chairman, without going into details, said that “I have been assured that all legal and moral help would be extended to Mohammad Asif” The meeting ended at that note. I flew out of Lahore that night. A meeting with the lawyer hired by Zakir Khan, the then Director Operations, was scheduled at 10 a.m. It was hardly a surprise that the lawyer ‘hired’ by Zakir Khan was his close friend.
In any case, I was advised to accompany an associate of the Law Firm to visit Asif at the detention center located at Dubai Airport. We went through a maze of corridors with checks at each point and finally reached the point where Asif waited for our arrival. There was no remorse or any sign of guilt on his face. He greeted us smilingly. The associate lawyer, who happened to be an Arab, asked me to inquire about the substance Asif was carrying. Asif’s reply was prompt.
“Pai an (elder brother) it was Salajeet (a natural aphrodisiac)” I asked him again if was sure that it was Salajeet and not drugs. He swore that it was Salajeet. At the point the Arab lawyer, interjected, and addressed me in perfect Punjabi. “Please do tell him that he would be released on your (mine) recognizance and if the test returned a result positive for a drug, not only will he remain in detention, but you (I) would be arrested for posting bail of Asif’s behalf.” Asif hung his head low, not because of shame, but to avoid eye-contact. “It was Opium, a tiny bit in my wallet, a leftover from his stint with IPL. It is an open secret that opium or drugs laced with opiated are used by fast bowlers around the world to overcome aches and pains while they bowl. It is not on WADA list of banned substances, but its transport to UAE is a criminal offence notwithstanding the amount of drug being carried.
The next day we met the Chief of Police who was visibly annoyed. It turned out that our “great” fast bowler had bowled a beamer when he went on air and accused Dubai Police of manhandling him. I picked some positive vibes during our meeting with the Police Chief; it seemed that the Chairman’s phone call had made all the difference in the world.
But it was also made clear to us that the authorities want to make an example out of Asif for his false allegations of being ‘thrashed” by the police. It turned that he was drunk when he disembarked the plane and was unruly and hostile during the customs inspection. He was arrested for “disorderly” behavior initially and upon thorough search a ‘substance’ about the size of a rice grain was found in his wallet. The confiscated substance was being analyzed at the moment. To cut a long story short, I had several meetings with our Consular in Dubai.
In one of the meeting it was decided that we call upon the office of the Crown Prince in Abu Dhabi, but the idea was rejected by Dr. Nasim Ashraf, who assured us that everyone was on board and Asif would be released shortly. Before I conclude, it needs to be noted, that one fine evening Asif called me and asked for some money. I called PCB’s Chief Financial Officer who in turn called ICC’s Chief Financial Officer and the required money was delivered to Asif in the detention Center.
Hardly a day had passed when he called me up again and asked for more money. I inquired about the disposal of the money that was sent to him the day before. He calmly replies, “I bought food and drinks for the inmates with that money”. To say I was stupefied by his magnanimity would be an understatement. We never shared with him the details of the efforts being made to get him released. I often wondered if Asif realized the consequence of his actions and the predicament he faced. His nonchalant attitude suggested otherwise!
I had to return home to oversee the arrangements for the Asia Cup. I met him one last time and wished him good luck. He did ask me when he would be released. I chose not to answer and walked out. He was release a day or two later. I made arrangements through our NSK Manager to have him transferred from International Arrivals to Domestic Departures bypassing the normal protocol.
To this day, I am grateful to Pakistan Customs, Immigration Services and CAA for acceding to our request. Director Marketing and I received him at the Lahore Airport. We had prepared a written statement for him to read to the press waiting outside. To our astonishment, he could hardly read a quarter of one paragraph statement. We took him to one of the empty office in the lounge and asked him to rote the entire statement. It took us a while, in the end he could barely remember it all. That was better than nothing. We escorted him out of the lounge. He ‘read’ out the statement and was swiftly removed from the scene.
Our media manager was left behind to handle the media. The point of narrating these events is not to humiliate or belittle any player, but to highlight the fact that despite Pakistan Cricket Board going overboard to restore its player’s honor, the players continue to berate the management and the Board. It’s high time that Saleem Malik of this world to move on with their lives instead of appearing on national TV and be the butt of a joke world over.
It was during the winter of 2006, Pakistan team had just departed to India to participate in Champions Trophy. Like the rest of the nation, we at PCB had high hopes that our team would fare well in the tournament
A meeting with the lawyer hired by Zakir Khan, the then Director Operations, was scheduled at 10 a.m. It was hardly a surprise that the lawyer ‘hired’ by Zakir Khan was his close friend