|The Man With A Mission
(by MUHAMMAD RAHAT HUSSAIN)
The October of 2011 saw Pakistan cricket move into a new direction, a prosperous one and the man behind this is none other than the new PCB Chairman Zaka Ashraf. Since his advent into the affairs of Pakistan cricket, a sense of calm has prevailed over the modus operandi of the largest sports body of this country. Pakistanis live the sport of cricket and this game has united us at all times. Apart from the team that is obliged with expectations of performing all the time, the force that works behind them is an integral part of its functioning, and with a man like Zaka Ashraf steering the organisation, a lot of good can be expected in the times to come. Calm in demeanor and soft in nature, PCB's first man seems like a man on a mission who knows his job well. Having held various positions in the past, Zaka Ashraf has tons of corporate and administrative experience under his belt and with a sports body as complicated as PCB, his tenure as its Chairman will be the test of his experience. In an exclusive interview to MAG, the PCB Chairman spoke about the efforts being done to revive international cricket in Pakistan and his initial three months in PCB. Excerpts:
MRH: Your initial three months as PCB Chairman have been steady, and Pakistan cricket team has fared well too. What kind of challenges are you anticipating in the coming future?
Zaka Ashraf: There are a lot of challenges and a few of them are beyond control such as terrorism, and bringing international cricket back to Pakistan. Whatever I am doing, I am doing with a good intent and I have been successful so far.
Since you have had corporate background, do you think that as PCB Chairman you need to make administrative changes in the PCB and are you satisfied with the structure of the organisation?
I haven't made my mind as yet because I am just monitoring the situation. It's just been two and a half months that I've been in office, but definitely there is always a room for improvement and I am observing everybody, the negatives and positive, the individuals and the system, but one thing that I strongly feel is that the system needs to be upgraded as every working individual is answerable and his work should be judged by his performance. That is very important because if someone is just sitting and doing nothing, then he's a dead wood, and we don't want such stuff. We need passionate people who want to build Pakistan cricket. So, I am observing behaviours of the people and wherever I find individuals not working, I am warning them to straighten up. I feel people are getting the message and down below they know that things are getting different and that they have to perform. But there are so many things to be done; it's a huge task, an uphill task and I think we will cope up gradually.
As PCB Chairman, do you feel the need to micromanage?
I believe in delegating the powers to the committees, let them be the judge and my job should be to be there and see whether they are doing their job. Because if I start getting into such small things, then they will sit idle and I will be the one working and they'll be watching. So I don't want them to watch me, I want to watch them.
PCB's selection matters have often been a target of criticism in the past, and there have been talks in various cricketing circles that merit is suffering. What measures would you take to ensure that merit is given preference over everything else?
As the chairman of the board, my job is to monitor whether officials are performing their duties with responsibility. Moreover, committees have their own autonomy and I don't interfere in their matters but I do check whether they are working efficiently. In case of selection committee, I see whether the decisions taken are justified or not and seek proof of justification by discussing each and every player with them to ensure that deserving players have been selected.
Do you think that with regards to selection matters, PCB should have an anti-nepotism policy?
Nepotism... favouritism... yes we believe in merit policy and there should be no nepotism, no favouritism. Things have to be on merit and everybody must perform on merit because without that cricket cannot progress and we cannot get the lost glory of Pakistan cricket back.
In December, PCB formed a task team to study the domestic structure of cricket and give recommendations to improve it. Have any recommendations from the task team surfaced yet?
We have formed a task team of all the cricket legends, who had ideas to improve cricket in Pakistan. When I met them, they all had ideas and divergent views, so I thought instead of me doing the job, why don't they sit together in the form of a committee and share their views. The task team is headed by Intikhab Alam and whatever recommendations and consensus the committee reaches, the report would come to me.
I have also formed another Executive Coordination Committee, of the senior executives of PCB, which I myself would head, just to double check and see how to implement the recommendations received. So, our idea is to improve and promote cricket, create a conducive environment for domestic cricket and look after all the other issues.
Your visit to India after the ACC meeting got postponed. When do you plan to visit India next? Are there any particular points on the agenda other than the revival of bilateral series?
A few months before I became the PCB Chairman, Mr. Srinavasan had become the Chairman of BCCI. So after assuming office, I first wrote a congratulatory letter to him in which I mentioned the improvement of cricketing ties between the two nations. When I didn't get any response from them, I indirectly targeted Indian cricket fans. Via a private TV channel in Dubai, I spoke about the revival of a bilateral series. Soon after that the Indian media started showing interest and tried to contact me. This eventually made the BCCI respond to my letter and they invited me for talks, but also explicitly stated that a bilateral series could only happen when they had permission from their government. So I thought I'd rather make the visit fruitful, when permission from their government is granted, meanwhile I have also written to our foreign ministry for visiting India. We are both waiting for green signals from our respective governments.
More than two-thirds of players polled in a recent survey believe the BCCI has an unfair influence on decision-making within the ICC. The Federation of International Cricketers' Association (FICA) has renewed its calls for a review of the game's governance. From an administrative standpoint, do you think the structure and composition of the ICC executive board should be reviewed?
No doubt they might have tried to exert their influence, but up till now they have not been able to get whatever they want. We have to see what is good for cricket in Pakistan and for the rest of the world also. At the ICC level we have to see what is good for international cricket and from that point of view, I think Pakistan would play its due role. We will continue to look at like-minded cricketing countries in the board to get together and form joint strategies so that only good things for international cricket are focused. Focusing on a country's domestic requirements and interest shouldn't be the prime objective. It has to be broad based and good for all countries.
" There should be no nepotism, no favouritism "
Your talks with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and its officials have been quite fruitful; in fact nominating BCB's chairman for the post of ICC's Vice President was a masterstroke. Given the efforts that you've put in, how do you see the future of this engagement?
I had been working on this for a few months and after the Asian Cricket Council meeting, I decided to go to Dhaka, where I had a meeting with BCB's officials and after some negotiations, they decided to go ahead with the idea of Bangladesh touring Pakistan. It was decided that their security team would first visit Pakistan to discuss and asses the security plan and their delegation would include their board and government officials, and police officers. And if everything goes well, their national team would come and play a few matches. We then had a joint press conference later and answered media's questions. It was a kind gesture on their part and I really appreciate the way it is going forward.
How helpful has ICC been so far in promulgating the revival of international cricket in Pakistan?
ICC has already said that it is a matter of two boards and if there is an agreement between them, ICC has no problems with it. In fact, ICC's CEO Mr. Haroon Lorgat has also stressed for the revival of international cricket in Pakistan. I was of the view that why doesn't the ICC create a standardised checklist regarding security for cricket teams touring other nations. But then I later found out that talks regarding this were already taking place, and those who have vested interests in inhibiting the resurgence of international cricket in Pakistan have been sidetracking it, inhibiting progress on this matter.
After the spot-fixing controversy, are you satisfied with the measures taken by the PCB to prevent such acts of corruption, or do you think more stringent measures need to be taken?
The spot-fixing controversy was an unfortunate stigma on us. Now we have to be strict and vigilant to make sure that this does not happen again. There are already certain anti-corruption measures in place and I think such issues, along with other security issues, should be tackled by an appointed senior police officer, because ICC also has police officers, and both should liaison frequently to implement ICC's standards and requirements on anti-corruption and security.
Do you think the punishment handed out to the trio is sufficient and justified?
The incident was extremely unfortunate and I think Pakistan has lost great talent. Those boys could have played for Pakistan and could have helped the team reach new heights. And as far as the punishment is concerned, since it's a court matter it wouldn't be wise to comment on the decision because these individuals went on their own and filed their pleas in the British court and the court took its decision. We feel sorry for them and I would say that I feel even more sorry for their families. I have been calling their families and have been asking them if I can do anything. These people are not from financially strong backgrounds, and I do not want their families to suffer. I have been trying to get in contact with all the three families to see if I can do anything for them.
Any particular plans that you have set for Pakistan cricket in 2012?
My foremost plan is to promote cricket, develop stadiums, grounds and other infrastructure for improvement in cricket. I also want to promote domestic cricket and bring about some revolutionary changes in it along with the revival of international cricket in Pakistan. These are the prime objectives in my mind. I also want to bring about certain changes in the present working of the board and associations at the district level and introduce certain systems to maintain a check, so that the board does not get involved. We have to work on these systems so that whatever politics goes on, talent hunt and cricket at the district level is not affected.
Pakistan Cricket Team's performance since Zaka Ashraf became PCB Chairman in October 2011
Pakistan v Sri Lanka
1st Test: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi - Oct 18-22, 2011
Sri Lanka 197 and 483; Pakistan 511/6d and 21/1
2nd Test: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DSC) - Oct 26-29, 2011
Sri Lanka 239 and 257; Pakistan 403 and 94/1
Pakistan won by 9 wickets
3rd Test: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Sharjah - Nov 3-7, 2011
Sri Lanka 413 and 181/6d; Pakistan 340 and 87/4
1st ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DSC) - Nov 11, 2011
Sri Lanka 131 (40.3 ov); Pakistan 132/2 (21.5 ov)
Pakistan won by 8 wickets (with 169 balls remaining)
2nd ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DSC) - Nov 14, 2011
Sri Lanka 235/7 (50 ov); Pakistan 210 (46.3 ov)
Sri Lanka won by 25 runs
3rd ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DSC) - Nov 18, 2011
Pakistan 257/8 (50 ov); Sri Lanka 236 (48.5 ov)
Pakistan won by 21 runs
4th ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Sharjah - Nov 20, 2011
Pakistan 200 (49.3 ov); Sri Lanka 174 (45.2 ov)
Pakistan won by 26 runs
5th ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi - Nov 23, 2011
Sri Lanka 218/9 (50 ov); Pakistan 219/7 (47.2 ov)
Pakistan won by 3 wickets (with 16 balls remaining)
Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi - Nov 25, 2011
Sri Lanka 141 (19.3/20 ov); Pakistan 142/5 (19.3/20 ov)
Pakistan won by 5 wickets (with 3 balls remaining)
Pakistan v Bangladesh
Bangladesh v Pakistan at Dhaka - Nov 29, 2011
Pakistan 135/7 (20/20 ov); Bangladesh 85/9 (20/20 ov)
Pakistan won by 50 runs
1st ODI: Bangladesh v Pakistan at Dhaka - Dec 1, 2011
Bangladesh 91 (30.3 ov); Pakistan 93/5 (25.4 ov)
Pakistan won by 5 wickets (with 146 balls remaining)
2nd ODI: Bangladesh v Pakistan at Dhaka - Dec 3, 2011
Pakistan 262/7 (50 ov); Bangladesh 186/7 (50 ov)
Pakistan won by 76 runs
3rd ODI: Bangladesh v Pakistan at Chittagong - Dec 6, 2011
Pakistan 177 (46.1 ov); Bangladesh 119 (38 ov)
Pakistan won by 58 runs
1st Test: Bangladesh v Pakistan at Chittagong - Dec 9-12, 2011
Bangladesh 135 and 275; Pakistan 594/5d
Pakistan won by an innings and 184 runs
2nd Test: Bangladesh v Pakistan at Dhaka - Dec 17-21, 2011
Bangladesh 338 and 234; Pakistan 470 and 107/3
Pakistan won by 7 wickets
Pakistan v England
1st Test: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC) - Jan 17-19, 2012
England 192 and 160; Pakistan 338 and 15/0
Pakistan won by 10 wickets
2nd Test: England v Pakistan at Abu Dhabi - Jan 25-28, 2012
Pakistan 257 and 214; England 327 and 72
Pakistan won by 72 runs
3rd Test: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC) - Feb 3-6, 2012
Pakistan 99 and 365; England 141 and 252
Pakistan won by 71 runs