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Najam Sethi hopes to see Shahryar Khan re-elected as PCB chairman

Najam Sethi (in pic) succeeded Zaka Ashraf as the Pakistan Cricket Board chairmon on 24th June 2013 © AFP
Najam Sethi (in pic) succeeded Zaka Ashraf as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board  on 24th June 2013 © AFP

By Amir Husain

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, former Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Najam Sethi outlined his achievements at the helm of the PCB, including steps to resurrect Pakistan’s standing amongst the ICC and fellow administrators as well as the improvement in the financial well being of the PCB. He also expressed his thoughts on what the future holds for Pakistan cricket in light of the measures taken by his management to improve the state of the game and offered his hope that the ex-Foreign Secretary for Government of Pakistan and ex-Chairman PCB, Mr. Shahryar Khan is re-elected as the new chairman.

Excerpts from the interview:

PakPassion (PP): How would you describe your various spells as Chairman PCB?

Najam Sethi (NS): ”Rollercoaster rides! Up and down. Chiller thrillers! I was sent in to hold elections and depart. But the courts continued to thwart my objective. Thank God for the Supreme Court that has now settled all matters definitely in our favour. The conspirators and blackmailers-petitioners have now made one last ditch effort to throw another spanner in the works but Justice Athar Minullah of IHC [Islamabad High Court] has taken them to task and stopped their nonsense. In this case justice delayed is justice delivered.”

PP: What were your aims when you embarked on the role of Chairman?

NS: The main objective was to deliver a democratic constitution and hold elections to the post of chairman. Over time, when I realised that the PCB was being eaten away from the inside, I determined to clean it up organisationally and set merit based standards across the board.”

PP: Do you think you’ve achieved what you aimed to achieve as Chairman?

NS: Actually, I have managed both to enlarge the mission and to achieve it. In the last three months of my tenure when I was finally given full powers to move ahead on all fronts, I was able to cleanse the PCB of over 140 redundant employees at a saving of about Rs 6 million per month. This saving enabled me to increase the salaries of the remaining staffers by about 10%, increase pensions of ex-Test cricketers by about 30% on average, give a stipend of Rs 5,000 per month to 50 top Under-16 cricketers, increase Central Contract salaries of the National Team squad by 25% etc.

“I’ve appointed the best national and international coaches and empowered them to train and select the best cricketers in the country along with the new selection committees of untainted and respected ex-Test cricketers. We have ended Pakistan’s isolation in international cricket and become the 4th most powerful member of the ICC [International Cricket Council] and we’ve signed FTP [Future Tours Programme] contracts worth $400-500 million over the next eight years, which is an unprecedented feat. We’re on the powerful Executive Committee of the ICC and next year we shall sit in the chair of the President of ICC. Domestic cricket revamp has been accomplished, which will lead to fewer but truer first class cricket matches and tournaments funded partly by private sector sponsors. And Pakistan Super League (PSL) is about to become a wonderful and exciting reality in the months to come. Most importantly, I have ended the culture of ‘sifarish’ and blackmail that was eroding the PCB from within.”

PP: The role must be very frustrating given the constant uncertainty and upheaval in Pakistan cricket? Do you not feel that it doesn’t help Pakistan cricket when the courts are constantly meddling in the affairs of the PCB? 

NS: ”Yes, it was both tense and frustrating. Every time I was ready to move ahead, vested interests and blackmailers would move the IHC to derail us. Indeed, I was appalled by some court decisions. In the old days the government used to meddle and derail PCB. Lately the courts were issuing stay orders against PCB without even hearing us and regardless of the adverse consequences of their actions. Thank God for Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and Justice Saqib Nisar of the SC and Justice Athar Minullah of the IHC who are trying to set things right.

PP: On the international scene, you seem to have assured Pakistan of some important series against India, you must be proud of that achievement?

NS: ”Yes, our achievements in the ICC are noteworthy. The old policy of confrontation adopted by Zaka Ashraf and his supporters like Arif Abbasi was a disaster. I’m afraid I have a low opinion about the credentials of such people.”

PP: How would you describe PCB’s standing amongst the ICC and fellow administrators, particularly given the constant changes of Chairman?

NS: ”PCB was in the dumps when I came along. Fellow ICC administrators used to joke about some of our ex-chairmen. One was alleged to fall asleep during meetings. Another wasn’t able to understand the fine print or argue in English. And so on. The constant ins and outs of the Chairman were terribly unsettling for them. Thank God all that is behind us now.”

PP: There are contradicting reports on the financial situation of the PCB. Can you clarify the situation regarding PCBs finances, is it as dire as some are saying?

NS: ”I was told one harsh fact by the CFO in my first meeting on the budget that if things continued in the same manner, PCB would be bankrupt in 3 years! I was aghast at the continuing deficit that was eating into our reserves. But during the year ended 30 June 2014 the following are the brief highlights:

1. Highest Pre-tax profits of PKR 800 Million since 2011.

2. Profits are PKR 800 Million against budgeted deficit of PKR 366 Million for this year due to austerity measures, economies of all scales & generation of better revenues especially television rights.

3. Twelve percent reduction in Administrative cost of PCB as compared to previous year. Mainly because of reduction of staff, elimination of unnecessary travel, elimination of unnecessary advertisement & promo expenses.

4. Drastic & large economies in expenses pertaining to cricket series being played at neutral venues. PKR 657M was budgeted while actual expense is about PKR 500 Million – reduction of about 24%.

5. Seventeen percent reduction in expenses on tours outside Pakistan. PKR 246M was budgeted while actual expense was PKR 217M.

6. Rationalization of other cricketing expenses – Reduction in Coach Fee, Committee Expenses, Regional ground maintenance & operational expenses & players development activities.

7. Increase in Investment Income as compared to previous year and budget.

8. Complete stopover of massive capital expenditure that was originally budgeted for PKR 2 Billion & was subsequently reduced to PKR 196 Million. This saved millions for PCB & hence greatly contributed towards enhanced liquidity of PCB.”

PP: You’ve made changes to domestic cricket in Pakistan. Do you think those changes will work and if so, why?

NS: ”Yes they will work because of two factors. Firstly, the entry of the market and sponsors into domestic cricket and secondly, the fact that the next elected board of governors will cement these changes. Don’t forget, out of ten members, of the new BoG [Board of Governors], five are those who were members of the Management Committee of which I was chairman that sanctioned these changes. So there will be continuity.”

PP: How do you think the PCB can encourage fans to take more of an interest in 4 day and 50 over domestic cricket in Pakistan?

NS: ”Everything depends on how much money our new sponsors will put into their regional teams and make cricket exciting enough to bring PTV, GEO and other broadcasters on board.”

PP: Do you think more domestic cricket should be televised in Pakistan and if so how can that be achieved?

NS: ”Yes, absolutely. That is going to happen. It is the way of the world. Broadcasters will come in if the Sponsors dip into their pockets to make events more exciting.”

PP: You faced criticism from some on your decision to call-up Younis Khan to the one day squad for Sri Lanka despite the captain & coach being against this decision. Do you not think that could cause animosity amongst the squad and management?

NS: ”On the contrary, the Selectors accepted their error of judgment in awarding him B category and accepted my intervention to set the record straight by granting him A category. And see how Younis has paid us back by scoring 177 in his very first outing.”

PP: What was the most frustrating aspect of being Chairman of PCB?

NS: ”I was struck by the negative role of the media and courts in general and some ex-cricketers with vested interests to protect or axes to grind. Because of my association with one channel, the other channels were hostile towards me. And ex-cricketers who didn’t get the jobs they wanted were overcome by sour grapes. When I cancelled the free foreign junkets of a coterie of journalists nurtured by the ex-chairman that was costing PCB Rs 1 crore every year, I was targeted.”

PP: What would you say was your greatest achievement as Chairman and what didn’t go so well?

NS: ”I survived the snake pit and put PCB on the rails again!”

PP: Any words of advice for whoever takes on the role of Chairman next? 

NS: ”The next Chairman should follow the merit-based yardsticks I have left behind.”

PP: Who would you like to see as the next chairman of the PCB? Should this be someone who has done this job before or would you prefer a completely new/fresh face?

NS: ”I hope ex-Foreign Secretary and ex-Chairman PCB, Mr. Shahryar Khan, is elected as the next Chairman. With his vast cricket and diplomatic experience, he will be an asset to PCB like he was as a member of the Management Committee of the last year or so.”

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)

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