LAHORE: Pakistan cricket breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday when President Asif Ali Zardari, ending days of speculation, appointed noted banker Chaudhary Zaka Ashraf as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in place of controversial Ijaz Butt.
In a notification issued late in the evening, Ashraf was named new PCB chairman, replacing Ijaz who completed his three-year tenure on October 8. Ijaz’s tenure, which began in 2008, was plagued by controversies including last year’s spot-fixing scandal in England which led to bans on players Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir and the attack on the visiting Sri Lanka team near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in 2009. Ijaz had returned from Dubai on Monday after attending the executive board meeting of the International Cricket Council (ICC). Ashraf is known as an ardent cricket follower who, as chairman of the Zarai Taraqyati Bank Limited (ZTBL), regularised jobs of cricketers in his bank. Ashraf is a close friend of President Zardari as both studied together at Petaro College and stayed in the hostel. Five candidates were said to be considered for the post of PCB chairman and among them were former Test captains Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas.
Cricket is a passion in Pakistan with millions of people scrutinising the board’s every move and the national team’s performances. The Ijaz tried his best to get an extension and was looking to take into confidence President Zardari. But former PCB bosses, former Test players and PCB officials wanted a new man to run the board and stressed that Ijaz’s three-year stint brought unprecedented miseries. And President Zardari did Pakistan cricket a favour by not granting extension to the most controversial person of Pakistan cricket.
Ijaz’s tenure was worst in Pakistan cricket and will be remembered for a long time. The operational showing of the PCB, with Ijaz at the helm of affairs, remained under the spotlight, with loads of criticism coming from almost every quarter including the ICC. Taking note of the continuing decline in the governance of cricket in Pakistan, the ICC gave the PCB a hard rap on the knuckles and decided to monitor closely the running of the game in Pakistan. Bulk of this condemnation was, indeed, justified. Rhetoric, hasty decisions and events sans logic saw Pakistan cricket plunging to its lowest ebb in last three years. Itching for resumption of international cricket activity at home, the game’s enthusiasts were left bewildered and in their shock craved an explanation for this madness. Consequently, the game and tens of millions of ardent fans were the biggest sufferers.
Since taking over the reins of the PCB, the former ‘very ordinary’ Test cricketer, who played just 8 Tests with an average of 19.19, made Pakistan cricket a shameless circus. Ijaz, who was more suited to a post of team manger, managed the coveted slot in the PCB because of his close relationship with defence minister Ahmad Mukhtar. President Zardari perhaps did not realise what kind of a mess Ijaz would cause. Ijaz’s treatment of senior cricketers was one of the most diabolical chapters in the painful modern history of Pakistan cricket. But Ijaz claimed he was doing it to root out grouping and improve discipline in the team. His differences with former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi have been well-documented and the latter announced his retirement from international cricket because of the tussle with the board chief.
Ijaz’s presence in the board gave signals around the globe that the country’s richest organisation was without imaginative solutions, and without any understanding of what today’s professional sports administration required. Ijaz misled the National Assembly and Senate Standing Committees on Sports and traded veiled punches with them on a number of occasions. He was rightly ‘taken to the task’ for his ‘lies’ when a resolution was moved by the members of the Parliament calling for a change in the PCB set-up. His attitude towards the media was bordered on hostility and he was not averse either to making inconsistent statements. In most of the media conferences, he snubbed and humiliated reporters with contempt.
76-year-old Ijaz’s antics and blunders continued unabated and resulted in Pakistan losing the hosting of 14 World Cup 2011 matches that were distributed among other co-hosts India, Bangaldesh and Sri Lanka by the ICC. Nothing, perhaps, sums up the contradictions of Pakistan cricket, and the abyss into which it descended in last three years. The PCB under Ijaz became more or less dysfunctional. The controversies involving Ijaz made the country a laughing stock around the globe. His hullabaloos damaged the game in the country more than ball-tampering and match-fixing issues combined.
Ashraf, 59, a member of the executive committee of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, said his priority was to improve Pakistan cricket’s image abroad after a series of high-profile scandals. “I will work day and night to live up to President Zardari’s confidence,” Ashraf told a private television channel. “My top priority will be to improve Pakistan cricket’s image and stop bookies and match-fixers.” Ashraf said that he would also try to improve relations with other cricket boards, including rivals India, with whom sporting and diplomatic ties have stalled after a terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008. “People in both Pakistan and India love cricket so I will try to resume ties. I believe in cricket diplomacy and hope that relations with all the countries improve,” added Ashraf, who is the 32nd PCB chairman since its inception in 1948. – Dailytimes