Around the time Pakistan was batting at Chennai, the PCB twitter handle put out a video that featured chairman Zaka Ashraf in his office. Zaka has an impressive work place with a picture of Quaid-e-Azam on the wall, the national flag on the side, an impressive mahogany desk and behind it is the elephant in the room. The chair.
In days to come if Pakistan has some World Cup 2023 inquest, along with captain Babar Azam and cricket director Mickey Arthur, those who have sat on that chair since 2018 – Ehsan Mani, Rameez Raja, Najam Sethi, Zaka Ashraf – too need to be questioned. Bringing in Imran Khan too wouldn’t be a bad idea – he too has had a role in Pakistan’s botched up World Cup. Pakistan’s hopeless situation on the points table has a lot to do with its ad-hoc and unsteady cricketing set-up.
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There are a few who have taken potshots at the policy-makers. On a television talk show, cricketing great Wasim Akram, after his long monologue against the usual suspects – Babar and Arthur – folded his hands and made an appeal to the chairmen. “Please, please thoda mulk ke liye bhi soch lo (Think of the nation a little bit)”.
While Akram’s lament on television sounds theatrical, his senior, Mudassar Nazar, is more rational. Nazar, the all-rounder from the Imran Khan era, was in-charge of PCB Academy, aka the Pakistan Pace Factory, till 2021. Mudassar’s professorial tone and economy of words make him the perfect mentor for adrenaline-charged boys with 150-kph dreams. He should also be essential listening for Pakistan’s fans looking for long-term solutions.
In UAE for the past couple of years as director of cricket, Nazar is the voice of reason. He does blame Pakistan’s sudden slump to bad selections and the sudden injury to pacer Naseem Shah but for him what was more damaging was the “musical chairs” at the top.
“Obviously when they are playing musical chairs it has had an impact. Even if they have done the same job in the past, returning to power after a few years is difficult. They start by grappling with the issues concerning the national team and the development of young players go on the backburner. By the time they think of the development of the game in the country, they realise it is too late and it is time to go,” he says.
The all-rounder from the 80s says that every regime change pushes cricket back by six to eight months. Since in Pakistan, the Prime Minister is also the PCB’s patron-in-chief, every political change impacts its cricket. Political appointees take key positions. Reports say that PCB’s present staff strength is close to 900, much more than most nations.
Having served PCB in various capacities, Nazar knows the chaos and confusion when the tide turns. “This harms cricket. Whoever comes to power should be there for three to five years. We need stability, right now we are a laughing stock,” he says.
He gives the example of the Pace Factory to press his point. In one season of transition, PCB changed the medical staff and this derailed the assembly line. “There were doctors who were aware about the history of the young pacers, their medical files, since their u-16 to u-19 days. When a new guy joins, by the time he assesses the bowlers it is too late,” he says.
Nazar had a longish stint, that was the time he was the father figure to young pacers. He had a plan in place so that injuries could be avoided. “We would first assess why a cricketer gets injured. We look at the bowling action and see what is causing stress,” he says.
Before this World Cup Pakistan’s pace pool was full of the walking wounded. Naseem, Mohammad Hasnain and Ihsanullah – all pacers of international repute – got injured. India planned Bumrah’s return perfectly, Pakistan failed to keep their sharpest weapons ready for the big battle.
Under Najam Sethi, PCB decided to recall coach Mickey Arthur. The South African got a sweet-heart deal. He could stay employed with Glamorgan but work with Pakistan’s team remotely. There was wide-spread protests against the decision but Sethi truly believed that a foreign coach was the antidote to the parchi problem – nepotism and favouritism. Looking at Babar’s men on field, it was clear that the move had failed.
This wasn’t the only radical move. When Imran Khan as PM appointed his World Cup winning teammate Raja as PCB chief, there was excitement in the air. Imran believed in cricket’s professional set-up, the kind he had seen abroad. Imran pushed a directive that stopped the government institutions from playing first-class cricket. Economic slow down had already resulted in banks – the traditional employers of cricketers – freezing the hiring of sportspersons. Players now stared at a dark future.
“Imran always had this notion that we should run our cricket the Australian way. But grade cricket has sponsorship, that’s their strength. Club cricket is financed by alcohol and punters but that’s not possible here. We don’t have that kind of money in Pakistan. Pakistan lost a number of cricketers since they returned to their homes and pursued other professions to make ends meet,” he says.
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Nazar isn’t a pessimist. He doesn’t agree with the doomsday predictions that are prevalent in the nation in a state of shock. He says it’s a cycle, things will turn around, Pakistan will find world-class players and a champion side.
What about the former cricketer who says that cricket in Pakistan will go the squash and hockey way? “Pakistan is a poor country and a lot of former players are jobless. They join the bandwagon and they know everyone is glued to the TV. Former players join the bandwagon and start criticising the team, most of them are looking for a job in the PCB set up,” he says.
Last heard, the PCB has invited a bunch of former cricketers, all TV pundits, for a discussion and to give solutions.
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