It was a fine afternoon in 1997 in Lahore when I stepped into Ramiz Hassan Raja’s Allied Bank office for an informal visit and conversation. Contrary to the usual journalistic task of finding something to write about on the sports pages of The News that day, I had something else on my mind.
A few minutes into our sitting, I directly came to the point and asked if he would be interested in writing a weekly column for our Sunday edition. Much to my delight, Ramiz gladly accepted the challenge despite the fact that he had no previous exposure as a writer for any media outlet. Our ecstatic editorial team at The News on Sunday immediately launched a quarter-page promotional ad for the following day using a picture of the former Pakistan opener in action with the headline: “Ramiz Raja to bat for The News”.
The result and the ensuing response from the readers was outstanding. Ramiz became a regular contributor and I am proud to say the momentous meeting that day was probably instrumental in him becoming a much-loved, widely admired, celebrity cricket broadcaster over the years.
Weeks before his appointment as the chairman of the PCB, I happened to see him in Lahore at his residence on the last day of my Pakistan visit. The best thing about catching up with long-time friends is that regardless of the length of the time elapsed; you start from exactly where you had left. The encounter that was supposed to be brief, considering I had a flight at dawn, lasted for hours with endless laughter in a recollection of the days gone by. Much to my surprise, Ramiz remembered the meeting mentioned above that led to him becoming a columnist and so much more that had happened decades ago in vivid detail.
It was obvious the current state of affairs and the plethora of issues faced by Pakistan cricket also came under discussion that day. However, I had no clue that something was already brewing behind the scenes and the man that I have known for more than 30 years is about to take on the most daunting task of his career and become the new chairman of the PCB in a matter of weeks.
Having closely observed Pakistan cricket over the last four decades, I can’t think of any other chairman who has had to face as many nerve wrecking challenges from the very beginning as Ramiz did. Barely days into his new role as the PCB chief, Pakistan cricket was jolted by the back-to-back unceremonious, totally uncalled-for cancelation of tours by New Zealand and England.
This was in addition to the sudden resignations of coaches Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis as well as the widespread disapproval/discontent over the selection of the team announced for the home series and the T20 World Cup.
The presence of guys like Matthew Hayden and Vernon Philander in the dressing room has made a notable difference to the confidence of the team.
As someone so well informed and respected in the cricketing world, a vocal Ramiz minced no words in expressing his disappointment with the two Boards but also gave a message of hope to the fans, setting himself the target of making Pakistan the top team in the world that others would line-up to play against.
He hasn’t been sitting idle for a minute since then. The word from back home is that the chairman is relentlessly busy in planning, holding meetings, making decisions and listening to ideas. He is aware of the need of making the PCB financially independent, strong, more professional and reaching out to all sectors to achieve his objectives. His prime concern is to revive the sport at the club, school/college levels and make domestic cricket more competitive/lucrative.
Himself a product of the domestic structure, Ramiz has been a close witness of the steep downfall experienced by Pakistan cricket. He is now in a position to make a difference. Does he have a plan or the vision to pull it out of the quagmire? Of course, he does.
The recent string of outstanding performances by the national team is also going to be helpful for him and the PCB. He knew from the start that changes were needed in the team to make it more balanced. Rumor has it that Asif Ali was initially selected into the squad on his recommendation. Contrary to the general expectations, veteran Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were brought back to the squad also despite the fact that the former had made quite demeaning comments a couple of years ago following criticism by Ramiz over his selection. Hafeez’s return to the squad under Ramiz Raja’s watch also proves he is a visionary who won’t allow any ego or personal vendetta to hinder the decision making in the larger interest of the PCB, the team and the country.
The cricket fraternity in Pakistan is generally quite happy to have a chairman like Ramiz. I have been saying it from the outset, he probably had the best resume for the job. Pakistan cricket needed someone who understands every aspect of the game, is energetic, well versed and well respected at all levels.
Knowing Ramiz as a man of high self-esteem and integrity, there is a very strong likelihood he might turn out to be one of the best appointments made by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Sitting here in South America, I have been pleasantly surprised to see the widespread praise and appreciation he is receiving on social media for announcing he won’t be accepting any salary for his service as the chairman PCB.
One aspect Ramiz may have picked up early on is that his new role as the chairman is much different from being a broadcaster and commentator. Every word uttered now is official, deeply dissected and makes him accountable. There is no room for any loose talk whatsoever and he just can’t get away with it. He, therefore, needs to be careful in the selection and timing of his words to avoid needless controversies. I am referring to this in particular to the comments he made about the BCCI funding to the ICC and indirectly to the PCB that made headlines in the gloating Indian media. Ramiz may have learnt from the backlash that it was all completely avoidable. More so when there’s no direct relation involved.
One of the key items on Ramiz’s agenda as chairman is how to fix the domestic structure. PM Imran Khan has had a fixation over making changes to a system that steadily delivered champion cricketers including himself besides providing them decent livelihood and job security. The changes made during the last three years to the domestic structure under a cricketer Prime minister’s watch have been nothing short of being horrendous. Eliminating the commercial institution’s involvement from the cricketing scene has taken away key funding and job opportunities from the sportsmen and thus led to more deprivation, discontent and disconnect from the game.
The challenge now rests on Ramiz’s shoulders to fix it. He has the best wishes and support of an entire cricket mad nation behind him. Best of luck Mr. Chairman. If anyone could do it, it’s you. It’s your time to engrave your name as the most successful PCB chief in history. Best of luck!