LAHORE - Pakistan cricket remained in a state of turmoil for more than 15 months and atleast the ship look steadied for the time being after the election of Shaharyar Khan as new PCB chief. The one person who weathered all the storm and was subject of criticism from many a quarter, most of it from people with mala fide intent and representatives of well-entrenched vested interests, was Board’s former chairman and now member of newly constituted Board of Governors Najam Sethi. Despite riding on a topsy-turvy road during a checkered stay, Sethi remained unfazed and bring Pakistan back on track. Now that he has gone, of his own volition and with a lot of grace, he has left the PCB in state much healthier than he had found it – in every which way.
During an interview with The Nation though Sethi, being modest, only described his work as “not a bad job in a short time, even if I say so myself” yet steps taken by him would left lasting impressions on the future of Pakistan cricket and would help it to remain in a healthier shape and could safely be said a job well done.
Q: How do you assess your tenure at the helm of Pakistan cricket?
A: It was a roller coaster ride. If the courts had not entertained frivolous petitions or gone by the book, we could have wrapped up the elections, ensured stability, ended Pakistan cricket's isolation internationally and made PCB efficient and productive in three months. In the end, though, and despite the roadblocks by vested and corrupt interests, I'm happy that I was able to achieve all these and much more by the time I stepped aside voluntarily. I was able to institute a revamped domestic cricket structure in which the market will play a bigger role and first class cricket will mature; we will launch PSL in January; the best coaches have been provided to the NCA and all age-group teams; FTPs worth $400-500m over the next eight years have been signed; Pakistan has got a seat in the powerful Executive Committee of the ICC and the Presidency of ICC next year; roadblocks in the revival of Mohammad Aamir's cricket career have been potentially removed; central contracts with cricketers have been signed to everyone's satisfaction; pensions of ex-Test cricketers in need have been enhanced by 33-50 per cent; 50 Under-16 players have been given stipends of Rs5,000 per month each; the PCB management has been pruned by dismissing about 140 redundant sifarshi employees while the others have been rewarded by salary increments of up to 10 per cent; the national cricket team's international ranking has gone up from No 5 to No 3; we have lost only one series out of five played during my tenure. Fitness training is getting up to par with international best practices. And so on. Not a bad job in a short time, even if I say so myself.
Q: An elaborate domestic cricket plan has been unveiled, but the confusion still reigns with the tried and failed formula of bracketing departments and regions in one competition. Will this work when it hasn't over the years, have you succeeded in getting rid of the 'rottenness' of the system you yourself alluded to?
A: Yes, the new system will work because of one new factor. The regions are now going to get private sector sponsors who will put money into attracting players, making teams more competitive and propping up the region against the departments, which will raise the standard of first class competitive cricket in the country.
Q: What is Pakistan's future at ICC? You did a good job in getting things turn in our favor, but after your departure will your replacement succeed in carrying on in the same vein?
A: I believe Pakistan is de facto a member of the ‘Big Four’. In time, this position will give it greater clout in ICC decision-making. Of course, much will depend on who is leading the PCB as chairman.
Q: What if he doesn't and we are once again deprived with a series of promises that were made and might not be fulfilled?
A: Well, one reason why I agreed to stay on as a member of the BoG is to try and nudge the PCB to stay on track vis a vis our various pledges and policies. Naturally, I am hoping that the new elected chairman will not only bring greater stability to the PCB but also continue the reform process initiated by the Management Committee. I note that by chance five members of the MC will be on the new BoG, and that will help.
Q: What is the future of Indo-Pak cricket, at present it seems that tension is escalating again between the two countries at the border; do you fear that such occurrences can hamper the restart of cricketing ties?
A: All said and done, much depends on how the prime ministers of both countries charter the peace process and how the chairmen of the two Boards dovetail into diplomacy. Border issues will not derail cricketing ties.
Q: The PCB officials generally speak highly of your commitment, passion and energy in tackling tough situations; do you think you have succeeded in executing the plans you had in mind?
A: I have devoted a full-time year to PCB and suffered undue personal and professional attacks by vested interests. But I am glad that I have succeeded in putting PCB on the rails again in every way. I never wanted a long term role but no one believed me. Now that the Supreme Court has finally put all petitions at rest and paved the way for elections in which I am not contesting, perhaps my detractors will accept that my intentions were honourable.
Q: What role you will play in the Board of Governors?
A: I just want to ensure that the good work we did-- acknowledged by friends and foes alike -- will be institutionalised in a fitting manner.
Q: Don't you think that the new constitution has once again encouraged government and political intervention, why do we need the patron to be the prime minister of the country and give him a chance to potentially abuse his powers by handpicking a candidate of his choice who can be subsequently 'elected' through the weakness of our systems?
A: The old constitutions empowered the patron to nominate handpicked chairmen. The new one opens the chairmanship to any one of 10 members, eight of whom are elected representatives from the domestic cricket structure. Isn't that great? The patron has a role to play given the old 1962 law under which the PCB was constituted. The same situation prevails in a number of other third world countries where sport is managed and patronised by the state.
Q: How would you want Pakistan cricket to grow, and in the years ahead do you think you will recall with joy what was a truly tumultuous reign in PCB?
A: I would like PCB to become a lean and mean machine which decentralizes cricket decisions and allows the market to determine the contours of efficiency and competitiveness, which is the global practice. I would be happy if the seeds of change that I have planted were to come to fruition and talent is channelized all the way to the top on the basis of merit and international cricket comes back to Pakistan soon.