Venkat Ananth

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The fall of an institution?

Speaking as someone who loves the game of cricket more than anything else, I am yet to recover from the events of August 29, 2010. The News of the World video – its content, its seeming veracity – has shaken the game's soul, its credibility, its veracity.

 

But what enrages me even more than the seeming proof of malfeasance contained in that video is the role of the Pakistan Cricket Board, which has embraced the national societal and political virtue of denial, defiance, inaction and resistance.

 

That more people do not seem to be focusing on this aspect is surprising, and sad. The then BCCP (Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan) was a leading voice of Asian cricket in the 70s; what we see now when we look at the institution is a precipitous decline that parallels the decline of Pakistan's cricket and, indeed, its state.

 

The history of the PCB makes it clear that somewhere along the line, it acquiesced to functioning as an alternate source of power for corrupt politicians/Army Generals who, not content with exploiting the institution financially, have through unchecked and continued nepotism destroyed its credibility and threatened its very existence.

 

Sadly, when I look through the details of this spot-fixing case closely, I sense that half-way through last week, there has been a complete political takeover of the PCB, with its chairman reduced to impotence.

 

Thus, you have Pakistan's High Commissioner to the UK, a non-career diplomat, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, emerging as the face of Pakistani denial, defiance and rebuttal, while current PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt has been clearly sidelined and, as clearly, is under orders from on high to shut the hell up. 

 

It doesn't help that the conspiracy theory factory is now in overdrive, and hell bent on somehow implicating Indian intelligence agencies, and even current ICC president Sharad Pawar, in what essentially is the private act of a few greedy cricketers.

 

As a keen observer of Pakistani politics and policies, I reckon conspiracy theories are no more than the most fashionable way to play to a certain domestic gallery; over time, this has been refined into a fine art, with the Pakistani state making a habit of denying its own culpability on all levels, and immediately following up any fresh revelation with a conspiracy theory involving the "enemies of Pakistan and Islam" aka India, US and Israel.

 

In a way, the Pakistan Cricket Board thus has now emerged as a mirror image of the Pakistani state. It is an organization bereft of visible democracy (ironic, perhaps, since its Patron, President Asif Ali Zardari, is a cheerleader of "jamhuriyat", or democracy in Urdu). While lip service is paid to that ideal, the Patron has reserved to himself the right to dismiss or appoint anyone he pleases at any time, and to hand over the reins to the latest political favorite with no semblance of accountability and transparency being required.

 

The lack of democratization in Pakistan's cricket administration means that it is still an exclusive club of what we know as the country's 'Elites', whose proximity to the 'Establishment' is too well documented, and which has contributed to the systemic degrading of the institution.

 

Regular political interference apart, the PCB's shallow credibility emerges out of systemic nepotism from the top right down to the grassroots. And it is endemic, beginning with PCB chairman Ijaz Butt, who picks trusted cronies to form an opaque circle around him.

 

Then you have incompetent politicians - Sports Ministers and Standing Committees with criminal records, corruption charges and fake "degrees" -- sitting in judgment of the PCB's activities, and providing it with a protective layer of validation of its underhand activities. Sadly, institutionalized corruption in the PCB has reached levels where a clean up might become a tad difficult. I'm only half jesting when I say that the PCB makes the BCCI look like the most professional body running cricket.

 

To put Pakistan cricket and its leadership in context, I'd go back to the 1970s, when the then BCCP was in its heyday, and was led by a man of impeccable integrity, an Oxonian widely regarded as a true leader of men, apart being a nationalist ideologue who believed in the Pakistan cause. It helped that Abdul Hafeez Kardar, perhaps the best administrator Pakistan cricket has ever had, was also its first national captain.

 

I can only think of Imran Khan who like Kardar was an Oxonian, and a man who led Pakistan cricket with great authority on the field. The parallels between the two are obvious, as highlighted by Osman Samiuddin, Cricinfo's Pakistan Editor in this piece

 

"Both were sketched from a broader, well-established tradition of Pakistan leadership: eloquent and educated Westernised men, more attractive to the outside world than to their own constituency. Pakistan has had many such men, who hijack the voice of a country rather than speak for a nation."

 

He adds, "They were strong men with little time for democracy or consensus in the way they operated. Imran and Kardar ran cricket as housewives do houses, with total control and belief that it cannot be done any other way. They were not servants of the game; cricket was their fiefdom, so Imran, for example, skipped entire series because it was too hot or the opposition not strong enough."

 

Samiuddin is eloquent on their leadership styles: "Such decisions set both apart and this was their greatest strength: they were one step removed from the rest of the rabble. They were not involved in team intrigues or petty cliques. Rather, unwittingly or not, they created them."

 

As the author points out, Kardar and Imran never shied away from taking tough decisions, including at times, dropping their own blood-relations from the team – this, in a country where clan loyalties are predominant, and nepotism is enshrined as a way of life.

 

Typically, a pay dispute coupled with direct political intervention, which Samiuddin writes about in this TOI Crest piece, brought down Pakistan's tallest cricket administrator in 1977 – and that is when the PCB's vertiginous descent into chaos began.

 

Kardar had not just Pakistan's cricket interests at heart but that of Asian cricket itself – it pays to remember he was the principle protagonist in helping Sri Lanka attain Test status, as the late Raj Singh Dungarpur once told me. Kardar was also a prime figure in challenging the hegemony of the so-called "white lobby" that ran cricket in those days.

 

So, what next for the PCB?

 

I spoke to former PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan to get a sense of how Pakistan cricket must not just reform its image overseas, but also its much vaunted cricketing system. A tough-talking diplomat, he typically didn't mince words. "We need a constitution that is not just democratic in text, but also in spirit," Khan told me. "When I was the PCB Chairman, we recommended a draft constitution to the Patron (then Musharraf), and unfortunately there was no consensus on the same. Musharraf was not too keen and held it back."

 

The PCB currently has a constitution which, Khan says, "is a facade of democracy and breeds nepotistic tendencies and sadly, doesn't seem to be implemented." Khan recommends a complete overhaul of the cricketing system in Pakistan, which he hints must outlive changes in the political setup and of course, must first and foremost have Pakistan's best interests at heart.

 

He also emphasized the need to democratize cricket administration in the country, "whereby a nominated chairman enjoys less executive powers and the governing body be elected by representatives of regional cricket associations/other stakeholders."

 

One of the tragedies of Pakistan cricket is that men of vision, like Khan, are invariably on the outside looking in – while those in control of the game invariably have their own, and not the game's, best interests at heart.

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