LAHORE-Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ehan Mani on Wednesday said that the board is keen to convince one or two foreign players to come and play first-class cricket.

Mani said this in a wide-ranging discussion with cricket authors and historians Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in a podcast, available on the PCB website here on Wednesday. He said the PCB has ambition of inviting foreign cricketers following the revamp of the domestic cricket structure last year but admitted it will have to elevate its standard in order to achieve this objective. “One of the things we are going to do with our first-class cricket is to encourage one or two overseas players to come and play,” he said.

“It is great for our players to be playing with the international players and that’s not going to happen overnight. We are working to take our first-class cricket to a complete different level and have it so competitive and so attractive for overseas players that they wish and keen to be part of it,” said Mani, who is also a former ICC President.

The PCB chief, who has given an account of the PCB’s efforts to overcome politics and resume bilateral cricket relations with India, shared his hopes for more international visitors to Pakistan after COVID-19 in the greatly-improved security situation and following highly successful tours from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Kumar Sangakkara-led MCC and the Pakistan Super League 2020, while reflecting on how he ‘stumbled’ into cricket administration and his achievements as a negotiator for the ICC.

Mani said that upon studying the country’s domestic cricket structure, he realised how the last system blocked entry points for upcoming cricketers. He said the new domestic structure put in place was going to create more jobs for the former cricketers, while providing a clear pathway for the upcoming cricketers. “I realised what happening was that the players, who played for the departments in first-class cricket, went and played Grade-II cricket for the regions. So, they were blocking the pathway for youngsters, who come through Grade-II cricket into the first-class game.

“The system was totally whopped. When I looked at the averages and first innings scores of our teams in the first-class matches, the first innings scores was one of the lowest in the world, lower than Zimbabwe. So, I knew something was not right. I concluded that we needed to have quality and quantity without cutting back on the opportunities for the youngsters to play cricket and working their way up if they are good enough.

“So we have set-up six Cricket Associations with hundred cities playing cricket among them, 16 to 17 cities per Cricket Association. Under them we will have somewhere around three and a half or four thousand cricket clubs. We produce cricketers in Pakistan in spite of a system not because of the system so we have got to make the system where we capture the best and give every youngster an opportunity to work his way up through a proper structured pathway.

“There’s a lot of talk about people losing jobs in Pakistan. I have worked out that six Cricket Associations with a hundred cities playing cricket with 3,000 clubs, we are going to create more jobs for former players. It is going to take time and it is not going to happen overnight,” he added.

One of the issues that has surrounded every PCB chairman over the past decade has been the resumption of cricket with India and naturally Mani was questioned on it. While he made it clear that his board was ready to engage with the BCCI for the resumption of bilateral series between the two countries, Mani said that the PCB would not run after their Indian counterparts. “I have taken the view, and I have let it be known to the BCCI, that we are always there to play, but we are not going to be running after them. It is their call, when they are ready to play, we will be willing to play.”

The PCB has been lauded internationally for the part it has played in the resumption of international cricket by sending its men’s team to England after the COVID-19 pandemic put the game on halt. On this, Mani said: “It is important for world cricket to come together and support each other, sending a Pakistan team is what the spirit of cricket is all about.”

Mani said playing in empty stadiums was something that would not take much time for Pakistan side to get accustomed to. “We have had to go through this in the Middle East when we played on neutral venues. We have played Test matches with less than 300 people. It was after cricket came back to Pakistan that it was an enormous experience for the players but they have had that experience of playing in empty stadiums for 10 years,” he added.