If Sethi, somehow, survives the demands of his removal, he should specially thank one man, the man named Sarfraz Ahmed, the one man whose part will be the biggest in saving his job.
With the emergence of new PM-elect and that too a former Cricketer of repute, it was just a matter of time that the air gets filled with demands of review of Pakistan Cricket and especially the top job in PCB, the Chairman of the board; currently occupied by Najam Sethi, the man who the supporters of the PM-elect have loved to hate in the recent years.
Sethi’s first taste of the job itself came in the wake of a regime change in Islamabad back in 2013
Earlier, it was Tauqeer Zia, in 1999, who replaced Mujeebur Rehman (after an interim period of couple of months with Zafar Altaf as the man in charge) when General Musharraf took over the reins of the country.
Not that the top job in PCB was either free of government influence or impetuous shakeups, ever. But the phenomenon of head of PCB getting rolled almost in chorus with the diplomatic head of the country was mostly unseen till the late 90s. Having said that, none of these extempore changes in 1999, 2008 or 2013 came only due to change of guards in Islamabad.
The 1999 transition came right after the shock defeat in 1999 World Cup final and all that noise of match fixing and corruption in years leading up to that debacle. Similarly, the changes in 2008 were preceded by a recent-past that saw Pakistan experience the humiliation of 2007 ODI World Cup, the loss in inaugural T20I World Cup as well as players like Afridi, Akhtar, Yousuf, Razzaq and Asif making headlines – more of national embarrassment rather than national pride – such as getting banned for threatening spectator with the bat, failing dope tests, sent home from a World Cup touring party or even giving up Pakistan career for a petty corrupt league – ICL.
The general mood in 2013 was not much different either. There were changes in coaching team, T20I captain, the selection committee and even the constitution and elections in PCB. In between, a strange run chase against England brought an end to T20I career of then captain, Misbah, another against Sri Lanka finished Pakistan’s T20I World Cup campaign and the strangest of them all, an unexplainable collapse against India spilling the rare chance of a whitewashing India in India, in an ODI series. Ironically, this was also the period when Pakistan played against South Africa a lot of matches and most of them finished in mis-matches.
All these episodes were preceded by a period of public dissatisfaction – even to the extent of public anger – and loud demands of changes in PCB setup without any link to changes in Islamabad. In fact, it were these demands and pressures that made the incoming governments rejig the PCB setup as a matter of priority.
Same could be repeated in 2018 as well, especially when the incoming Prime Minister is none other than one of the all-time great captains, the game of Cricket has ever produced.
Had the performance of Pakistan’s national team carried the same level of despondency, public disapproval and air of suspicion as it did during the periods leading up to the changes in 1999, 2008 and 2013, the chances of Sethi receiving a nod to continue would have been as bright as Imran Khan inviting Shahbaz Sharif to become the premier of the country in his place.
Adding into it the relationship between Sethi, the political analyst and Caretaker CM of Punjab in 2013, and the incoming PM and his followers, the voluntary resignation may have looked the only graceful option for Sethi.
Not surprisingly, the demands for removal of Sethi are neither unanimous nor loud enough to silence the counter-opinion. There are quite a few still demanding for his removal but it is fueled more by a context political in nature. On the other hand, there is equally popular sentiment to let him continue the job and that is coming more from the quarters who are evaluating the situation on purely cricketing grounds.
There are a couple of items on Sethi’s progress report as an administrator – the chairman of PCB – that stand out from the rest. The brightest is the return of international Cricket to Pakistan that saw World XI, West Indian and Sri Lankan sides performing for the first time on Pakistani soil since 2009. Ironically, the most unfavorable and critical comment on those efforts camefrom none other than the incoming Prime Minister himself. Remember phateechar and railu-katta?
That’s right, that comment. That sums up all the weight those efforts carry in this context.
The other item on the list is evolution of PSL from a desire to an infant and into a toddler. Without a doubt, it was Sethi’s relentless commitment to venture against all the hostile currents that played a pivotal role in making PSL what it is right now. The naysayers conclude that that’s the farthest that kind of effort could have gone; it has already peaked as an event and it has already slipped into the struggle of its survival. It will be a challenge, from administrative perspective, to keep the tournament going unless it moves to Pakistan – that links it back to the return of International Cricket to Pakistan, discussed above. Then there are those murmurs and whispers of transparency of expenses and procedures as well.
In a way, all his commitment to take PSL off the ground may still go completely against him, if examined with a lens of skepticism.
However, there is one aspect that is tough to deny. That is, the contribution of PSL in uplifting of Pakistan’s performance in International Cricket. Not long ago, the captains of Pakistan’s ODI and T20I sides, Misbah and Afridi, moaned about non-existence of future talent in Pakistan Cricket. The depressing statements came at the depressing end of respective careers. At the time, it looked just an expression of undeniable reality, said, with a holy purpose of helping the fans come out of denial. It took just a couple of seasons for the despondency of those comments to disappear in thin air, that too, right in front of those two experienced men.
Not that Pakistan had gone completely devoid of the talent in the previous years and Pakistan Cricket was not thrusting out, any more, the unseen talent that could excite the global audience. But what fueled this air of despondency, frustration and resentment was an endless repeat telecast of that talent recording yet another episode of unfulfilled promise.
As much as those talented boys themselves, the management and especially the leadership of the time was equally responsible for it. It seems, instead of carving glittering jewels out of raw gems, those leaders preferred to kill the subject by announcing nonexistence of any raw material with any potential in the supplies.
There was one man who disagreed with this summation, and probably the most. He took charge of all those half polished gems who showed glimpses of their potential in PSL, and made a spectacular chandelier out of them, a chandelier whose glaring shine eclipsed the brightest of the rivals at the exhibition of 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.
Sarfraz didn’t enjoy much of a say in team selection till the conclusion of second season of PSL. By that time, he had skippered a Pakistan side only 4 times – all in T20Is – once against England and in 3 T20Is against West Indies in UAE.
He took over Pakistan’s ODI team right after PSL 2, at a time when Pakistan was reeling at number 8 in the rankings. Fair to say, it was the time when he started to have his say in team selections. It was from that point onwards that the finds and stars of PSL started to feature more prominently in Pakistan lineups. Pakistan elevens started to include the names like Fakhar Zaman, Shadab, Rumman, Nawaz, Shinwari, Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Sahibzada Farhan and Shaheen Afridi more frequently than all those could-have-beens of the past. And all these names justified their presence by playing their part in bringing the best resultsthe Pakistan Cricket has seen in recent years.
To produce results with a young side is an art and not every player – who ends up leading a side – manages to be an artist at it. Without the artistry of Sarfraz, the result with these products of PSL could have been the same as they were with higher rated talents under higher rated captains of the past. And with such a backdrop, the progress report of a chairman of PCB would not have been much different from those in 1999, 2008 or 2013, either.
It’s Sarfraz leadership that has provided the resilience to the foundations of Sethi’s cricketing estate. Without the results Sarfraz has produced in his short captaincy stint, the debate of Sethi staying or leaving the office might have been settled, long ago, and not in his favor. If Sethi, somehow, survives the demands of his removal, he should specially thank one man, the man named Sarfraz Ahmed, the one man whose part will be the biggest in saving his job.