Bob Woolmer died of natural causes; no controversy involved: Shahryar Khan

Shahryar Khan served as Chairman of the PCB from December 2003 to October 2006 (Photo Courtesy: PakPassion.net)

By Amir Husain
 
A well renowned Pakistani diplomat, Shahryar Khan, had been part of foreign services in various capacities for more than 40 years before being appointed as the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) by the then President, Pervez Musharraf.

Shahryar Khan served as Chairman of the PCB from December 2003 to October 2006, bringing about much needed stability to an organisation that had long been mismanaged. It was under his leadership that the PCB emerged as a financially stable organisation. Khan focused on bringing continuity and consistency at a time when Pakistan cricket appeared to be adopting a revolving door policy with captains and coaches. A prime example of this was his continuous backing of the Pakistani captain at that time, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was the only captain that served during his tenure.

It was also during his tenure that Pakistan appointed the late Bob Woolmer, a move that saw the team climb the ODI and Test Rankings to second position. Perhaps the lowest point during his time came during the 2006 Oval-gate incident, an event that eventually led to his removal as PCB Chairman.

In the UK to promote his book Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan, the ex-chairman of the PCB, Shahryar Khan, spoke in detail to PakPassion.net about his recollections of his tenure at the PCB, issues with player power and the Oval-gate incident, as well as his thoughts on restoration of international cricket in Pakistan cricket.
 
Excerpts from an interview:
 
PakPassion.net (PP): What was the state of Pakistan Cricket when you took over the reins of the PCB in 2003? What were your impressions?

Shahryar Khan (SK): I actually took over in December 2003 and resigned in 2006 — so that’s nearly three years in the board. One of the advantages of this book is that you get an insider’s view of what has gone wrong in Pakistan cricket; the organization of the board itself, the way we play our First-Class and other cricket as well as the issue of player power. All these things, I’ve seen from the insider’s point of view. It lends a certain authenticity to it. The state of cricket, as I’ve described in the book, was very bad actually. There was no continuity or consistency. Before I came in, there were four or five captains going through a revolving door. We had Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, sometimes somebody else. It went on like that. I felt this was bad for cricket. When I came in, I decided on Inzamam-ul-Haq and I stayed with him right until the end. Of course, it had its problems and criticisms because Inzamam attracted a certain amount of criticism. But I remained consistent and constant with one captain and one set of selectors. The other problem was that there was no constitution in the PCB. The fact was that you had a chaotic situation where the appointment was done mainly by the President, whoever it happened to be — more or less on whims and fancies! Sometimes, these whims weren’t very successful. I had to try and put the constitution right, the PCB right, as well as other things had to be done.

PP: What were your thoughts on the Justice Qayyum report which had been published by the time you took over? What actions did you take to implement its recommendations?

SK: I studied Justice Qayyum’s report very carefully. Of course, there were some very clear signs. There were eight or nine players who had been mentioned in varying degrees. Of course, Saleem Malik had been completely banned. There were one or two others on whom were strictures. These strictures were that they should not be captain again and so forth. There were other players who were obviously involved in some kind of maligned activity. We had to deal with that also. I made it very clear that I would not tolerate any kind of drug abuse or match-fixing. I was very clear on that, but, of course, we had to contend with the aftermath of that report.

PP: Was there a backlash when you made it clear that you were not going to stand for any kind of indiscipline or corruption?

SK: There wasn’t a backlash. It was obviously the thing to do. It was the right thing to do and the right way to go ahead. No one actually condoned the match-fixing, spot-fixing, drug addictions, etc.; but it would go on behind the backs of people. This is what the problem was. One had to make very clear that it would not be tolerated. However good the player, however important, whether it was Shoaib Akhtar, whether it was Inzamam-ul-Haq, whether it was any of the dropped players, it didn’t make any difference. You just could not stoop to that level.

PP: In your time at the helm of PCB, Pakistan took a very unique step of appointing a foreign coach as a full-time coach: the late Bob Woolmer. How did that come about? You must have faced a lot of criticism and consternation amongst the PCB itself.

SK: It was not only that we were appointing [a] coach from abroad, but also that we were replacing a national icon in Javed Miandad. There was a lot of criticism after we had appointed Bob Woolmer as coach. But then, there’s always criticism just like we have in hockey — on whether we should have a local coach or a foreign coach. This issue has been discussed pretty much in depth in the book.

We opted for a foreign coach, after I was advised by people who I had respected, particularly Rameez Raja. We had a choice of three coaches: Woolmer, Barry Richards of South Africa, and Greg Chappell of Australia. These three were the likely contenders and we selected Bob Woolmer. Looking back, it was a good choice because Bob did a wonderful job with the team.

PP: How was your relationship with the late Bob Woolmer? He must have been pretty close to you because you did bring him in.

SK: Yes, he became a friend of mine actually. I greatly respected him. He was a very good man. He refused to stay in a hotel, which would have been costly, but it was his right. He stayed in the academy, in very simple quarters that he had been assigned. He said he wanted to be close to the boys, wanted to be able to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them, and to be there for any one of them to come in and see him at any time.

He instituted a number of changes. For instance, he told me after the first few weeks, “Your team is very talented, but they’re not fit. They’re only 20 per cent fit.” He ensured an 80 per cent fitness level increase in the next six months. He also had medical tests done on members of the team. He said that these people have to be checked and we found that three of the players had serious ailments. For instance, one had astigmatism in his eye, which meant that he had to wear contact lenses to play. Before these tests, the player didn’t even know he had that problem. There was another player with a blood infection, and we had to put that right. There were two or three players who were playing with these infections and various other problems which Bob Woolmer put right.

PP: Obviously, his passing away must have been a great shock to you, as it was to the nation?

SK: Let me tell you, the reason for me thinking about writing this book, although it didn’t end that way, was Bob Woolmer’s death. I knew him to be a very simple guy. I knew him, also, to be unfit. He had a little paunch and used an oxygen mask before he went to sleep. When he died suddenly during the World Cup, it was clear to me that there was no foul play. All the papers went to town. They said that he’s been strangled by one of the team or poisoned by someone who tried to knock him out because of the match-fixing business he had come up against — all that kind of rubbish.

I was very clear that this was not the case and that he had probably died of normal causes. I began this book that way. Later on, this could not have been the subject of an entire book and I was persuaded by my publishers to write about not seeing Pakistan through statistics, runs, and wickets, but to see Pakistan through the prism of cricket. It’s for people who are not even interested in cricket to read this book and to try and understand what Pakistan is about.

Going back to the subject of Bob Woomer, at the time of his death I had resigned from the PCB and I was in Lahore at the time. I had nothing to do with the PCB at the time but Bob Woolmer was my friend and he would see me frequently and take my advice. He also wanted to resign but I told him ‘No’. He had put in three years with the team and I told him he had to see it through. So he went with a heavy heart and things were breaking down because our form had declined and the relationship between Bob and the team, especially Inzamam, was not right although earlier it was fine. The relationship really turned sour after what happened at The Oval. So things weren’t too good and he wasn’t expecting too much.

PP: You mentioned something really interesting here — what is usually referred to as Oval-gate. You just stated that the relationship between Inzamam and Woolmer hit a low, but what actually happened in your view?

SK: Things began to go wrong at the beginning of the tour of England at the time. I remember very clearly, because I was there. I saw that player power was taking over. For instance, Bob Woolmer had asked one or two people to come in and coach. So, John Snow, the veteran England fast bowler, and the wicket keeper Allan Knott were asked to come in for a day and help the boys but Inzamam said ‘no’. He said he wouldn’t have them. He also said there would be no practice on certain days and it was clearly an attempt… well clearly, the power had gone to his head. Inzamam had his team behind him and things began to deteriorate from that point onwards.

It all ended with Oval-gate where the team didn’t obey or follow the directions that I gave, the directions that Bob Woolmer gave, and a player like Zaheer Abbas (who was the manager of the team at the time) gave. They were adamant and said they would not play. It led to a tremendous blot on the cricketing reputation of Pakistan and indeed it was a serious issue and sadly, it was entirely avoidable but I think player power and Inzamam’s petulance was instrumental in this matter.

PP: Did you make it clear to him that you were not happy with what was happening at the Oval?

SK: I made it more than clear. I was angry at that point. The sad thing was that Inzamam had always said to me that I was the only one who was supporting him because he was criticised as a captain and a leader for being too laidback and people wanted him replaced with a younger guy. I had backed him and he acknowledged that. He had thanked me for my support on numerous occasions. Yet, when I needed his support, he let me down very badly and he let Pakistan cricket down as well.

PP: From what I recall, things were happening at a very frenetic pace on that day. Were you actually in touch with Inzamam at that time?

SK: Yes, I was there at the ground as I have mentioned in some detail in the book. I was there in the dressing room telling them to go out and play. Of course it all went wrong when ICC appointed the umpires. We told the ICC before the England tour that you can appoint anyone you like, but we’re not happy with this man [Darrell Hair]. We are not happy with his attitude and the players are not happy either. Appoint an Indian or another Australian but they wouldn’t listen.

Hair was appointed to a Pakistan series four times in five years whereas when Sri Lanka objected to the same man because he had no-balled Muttiah Muralitharan in Australia, he was not appointed for eight years in a Sri Lankan series. Can you see the contrast? The ICC was very insensitive toward our doubts and, of course, we were proved right.

PP: Moving on to the current state of PCB, well, it’s a bit of a laughing stock right now. This viewpoint is from an international website where we have people from all over the world talking to us and their view is that this has become a circus simply because of issues such as the court cases and Mr [Najam] Sethi’s inability to put his plans into action. What are your views on this?

SK: I have a very clear view on this but I don’t want to be critical of my successors. I think Najam Sethi is a good choice, but don’t forget he is a temporary choice. He may last only a few weeks but even he knows that. I’ve spoken with him and he knows that he can only achieve a limited amount of things. He is a wise man and has a clear idea of what should be done but he can’t do it because he’s not the permanent chief. The permanent chief will come. The problem is that the revised constitution is not a satisfactory document. If a constitution allows a President to be elected by four or five people, then it’s not right. The problem is the constitution.

PP: But this constitution has always existed in the life of the PCB. It’s always been stated that the President of Pakistan always appoints the head of PCB. That in itself must’ve sat very uneasy with most people including yourself?

SK: The thing is, you have to strike a balance in the constitution between the right of the chief executive to nominate someone, and on the other extreme, for there to be a genuinely elected man. These are two extremes and somewhere in the middle, you have to find a way out where several people are nominated. People can be nominated by the General Body which is about 80 districts who have a right and who are part of the PCB. Let them nominate one or two and then let the President nominate one or two. Then have a proper election and not like this current four member electorate. This is where things have been gone wrong and it’s not right that the President should nominate a man known to people and then also nominate another man who could, for argument’s sake, be a rickshaw driver. The election will obviously favour the well-known man.

PP: Hypothetically speaking, if you were asked to take over the reins of PCB today by the President, how would you approach this task?

SK: I would find a way forward in the nomination/election of the chief executive. That would be my cue. It should not be left to the whims of the chief executive and it should not be left completely in the hands of a democratic process, because it could lead to a lot of charlatans coming up. Remember, there is a lot of money, power, and influence at play here. I’ve seen it in Sri Lanka where they had a gangster become chairman. You don’t want to have that. You can’t afford to have things like that. So you have to have a healthy balance between a person who is suggested or nominated, and someone who comes as a nominee.

PP: What are your thoughts regarding the restoration of international cricket in Pakistan?

SK: Not being able to play international cricket in the country is a very serious setback for Pakistan. But one has to be fair: it’s not because the PCB is inefficient or has not done its bit; it’s because the security situation in Pakistan is such that foreign teams will not come for the time being. I’m sorry, this is a fact of life. You see it every day in Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi, teams won’t come here. Even a team as friendly as Sri Lanka was attacked by the terrorists, so who is going to come and play here? So I think you have to wait until the security situation improves and then gradually get teams to come. Maybe teams that are favourable to you politically will come first followed later, by those teams that are very sensitive about the terrorist business like Australia, England and New Zealand, etc. I know that everyone in cricket wants Pakistan to come back into the fold and hold matches at home, but at the present time the security situation will not allow it.

PP: What are your views on Pakistani players being unable to participate in the IPL — is it a blessing in disguise?

SK: I think that is unfortunate. It’s not so much that there is hostility between the two countries, I think it’s more a security situation because if there is a Pakistani player such as [Shahid] Afridi for example, then the security around him has to be increased manifold. There will always be people who want to take their own back especially with the background of the Mumbai raids, etc, and do some harm to a Pakistani player and to Pakistan. I think this is the reason why the teams looking to sign players shy away from Pakistanis. It’s not that people are telling them not to pick Pakistanis although, to some extent that is true but I really think it’s largely a security issue.

PP: What are your views on the recently postponed PSL? Is it a realistic possibility considering that international teams are not visiting Pakistan? Are you in favour of perhaps holding it somewhere like the UAE initially and then moving matches slowly back to Pakistan once the name is established?

SK: Firstly, when you go to Dubai or the Emirates to play your matches, it becomes extremely expensive and almost not worth the finance; it’s only worth it in terms of maintaining your cricketing credentials. So, playing in Dubai and playing there over a long period is going to be very expensive — that’s one side of the issue.

The other is that top players who go to Sri Lanka, India, West Indies, etc, would not come here. You will get some retired players who you may be able to lure to come and play but I don’t think you’re going to get current top players. And I think the attraction will therefore be much reduced so I think that’s the reason why we are not doing it. Again it all boils down to the security situation.

PP: So you would say that as things stand at the moment, the PSL is not a realistic possibility, but things could improve?

SK: Yes, if things improve in terms of security, I think international stars will start coming to Pakistan and we’ll be able to play some matches. Maybe not the top stars but with some good players, we could start the ball rolling. After that, hopefully we could continue on to better things.

PP: Many people will suggest that when an ex-PCB chairman such as yourself is saying that the situation in Pakistan is not good, then cricket will never return to Pakistan. What would you say to them?

SK: On one hand I am trying to be realistic, on the other hand I am very hopeful that if the security situation improves, that we can get cricket back slowly and gradually. I think the MCC could send a team, I think a commonwealth team could come here to start with. I think we could get teams that are not so afraid of the security situation like Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka or even Bangladesh to come and play here. I think, gradually, we can open up the doors, we should try and have these teams coming over but you have to keep your eye on the security situation.

PP: Give us an idea of what you are trying to achieve with your new book?

SK: It’s like if you take a ride in a safari or something and the book describes various views that you get as you go along from station to station. Sometime it’s religious, sometimes it’s diplomatic, sometimes it’s about problems with Pakistan cricket or why corruption happens. These are the things in the book, it’s not so much about who scored how many runs or what someone’s average is, that’s not it. Cricket becomes a vehicle in which I take my riders through a certain scenery or kaleidoscope, and they look at things as I have seen them from the inside. No one has been able to give a picture of what really happened in the background, but I have; I was there.

PP: Comparing your role in the government with your job at the PCB, which one was more challenging?

SK: I had my battles with the government, and I believe that that the government could do much more for cricket in Pakistan because cricket is really the only unifying force in Pakistan. Therefore the government should be interested in helping cricket and improving cricket and making it a morale booster. It hasn’t done that, I’m sorry but it just doesn’t seem to be doing these things.
 
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)