Q&A: Khan on India-Pakistan series & failure of the Big 3

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  • Shahryar Khan.

    Shahryar Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), has underlined the problems they have faced being unable to host international games within the country.

    He also touched on the improvements being made to Pakistan cricket while strongly opposing the Big 3 ideology as they still await word on a potentially lucrative India-Pakistan series.

    Why is it that the changes suggested by Waqar Younis after the 2015 World Cup fiasco have taken so long to implement?

    I do not agree with that assessment. We did listen to those recommendations and formed committees to address those issues. We then decided to take some short and long term measures to remedy those issues. In the shorter term we decided to disband the selection committee and appoint Inzamam-ul-Haq as Chief Selector to replace Haroon Rasheed, whilst Shahid Afridi was replaced by Sarfraz Ahmed as Twenty20 captain.

    In terms of long term measures, we embarked on a program to improve cricket at grass-roots level. A good example of this is that for the first time in our history, we started a school’s level competition called the Abdul Hafeez Kardar Cup, which apart from having government schools, also includes private schools such as Aitchison College, other private schools from Karachi, and a large number of cadet colleges which are run by the Pakistan Army.

    This will hopefully provide a better and bigger pool of young players to select future national teams from, as will the revival of hitherto side-lined university and club cricket competitions which we will also undertake as part of these long term measures.

    Let me also add to this list the recent establishment of the biomechanics laboratory in Lahore which we hope will also become an ICC accredited facility in the future and improve the general tenor of Pakistan cricket. We have also initiated work on having better cricket grounds and pitches across the country. In this regard we are working on improving the capabilities of our pitch curators so that our grounds are in line with international standards.

    We have also appointed Mudassar Nazar, who is a vastly experienced former cricketer and has been working with the ICC at their academies in Dubai, to look after the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and other regional academies.

    These are all significant steps we have taken and whilst results may not be immediate, these changes will ensure that young cricketers are channeled into proper training and coaching which is vital for our cricket. I believe Pakistan cricket is heading in the right direction as we continue to make improvements.

    What was the reason behind the PCB’s recent attempts to move the venue for Pakistan’s home series from UAE to Sri Lanka?

    We are at a huge disadvantage due to not being able to host international teams in Pakistan ever since that horrible incident involving the Sri Lanka team. We have been forced to play all our home matches elsewhere. So up to now, we have been holding home games in the UAE at three venues which are very good but are also very expensive. This is what led us to explore the possibility of playing these games in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.

    Sri Lanka were very gracious in entertaining this request but the problem in relation to the West Indies series is that those games would coincide with the monsoons and therefore, most of the matches would have been in danger of being effected by rain. This is why we decided that we would pay the extra sum and continue to hold our home series in the UAE, at least for the series against the West Indies.

    However, we will continue to hold on to the option to play our home series in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh in the future. England would also have been another choice for such a series and as you will recall, we did play there in 2010 against Australia. However, given the short cricket season experienced during the English summer, it would not be prudent from a financial or marketability sense for another side to vie for the focus of home audiences when a home series for England will also be in progress.

    The ECB quite understandably would like their main invitees to take centre stage for the summer and not share the series with another board at the same time. This is the reason why England is no longer an option for our home series.

    How does the PCB intend to tackle the issue of leaks of confidential information which is potentially damaging to the reputation of Pakistan cricket?

    Look, trying to investigate the source of leaks can be a fruitless exercise but what we have done is to instruct all members of the team not to interact with the media without prior permission or without any supervision. We can only plug those types of holes by threats of dire punishment which is what we are doing now.

    Let me also add that a lot of these leaks are coming from players themselves so we are trying to prevent this by stopping all unnecessary contact via social media or telephones with the media who are always trying to find out more information from these players.

    How will your proposal for an ICC fund to compensate Pakistan for the lack of international series at home work in practical terms?

    We will be presenting our case in the ICC conference in a few days’ time. The crux of the problem is that we cannot play home series against international sides which is denigrating towards us. What we intend to propose is that because we cannot play a series at home and we are obliged to hire expensive venues in other countries, the ICC should help us overcome this problem. Let’s see how the ICC react to it and whilst they may be receptive to the idea, whether a formula emerges to compensate us for this expenditure is yet to be seen.

    Do you intend to approach the subject of India-Pakistan series in the upcoming ICC meeting?

    Let me give you some background on this. We signed the agreement in which we agreed to the idea of the Big 3’s influence on world cricket in 2014 with the clear understanding that India would play six series with us over a period of eight years.

    These series would have been played in India or a mutually agreed venue in a third country. These would have been very lucrative series as the India-Pakistan encounters attract a lot more international attention and financing compared to other series, even more than the Ashes. The BCCI told us that they needed permission from the Indian government for these series and we agreed to wait for that but that permission never came through.

    We even agreed to play India in Sri Lanka back in December if that was acceptable but even that permission was not forthcoming from the Indian side and as a result this series went down the drain with huge financial implications for us. It also showed that India had not met our conditions for accepting the Big 3 formula. The current situation is as I just described as in we are awaiting permission from the Indian government to play this series.

    Also to reiterate, an encounter between the two countries whether it is played in Kolkata or Adelaide, is sold out within minutes. There is enormous interest from fans and it’s also huge in terms of the financial gains aspect as all broadcasters wait for this series to take place. Let me also add that the Pakistan government has never created any hurdles to this series and even at the time of the World Twenty20 tournament when all sorts of threats were being made against the Pakistan team, we still went to India and participated in the tournament.

    It’s the Indian government which is holding back progress on this series ostensibly for political reasons and I do hope and pray that the political atmosphere will improve so that we can start building our cricket relations from scratch once again.

    Given what you’ve said there, do you not think that the Big 3 ideology has been a flop and the PCB and others should look to dissolve the Big 3?

    We were the only country that stood up against the Big 3 formula back in 2014. Every other country had already signed on the dotted line, but Pakistan had not until we were sure that India would play these six series in eight years and even after that, we agreed to sign rather reluctantly. But since India has reneged on its promise, we feel absolutely free to state again our opposition to the Big 3.

    In fact, the Big 3 formula has not been particularly popular in the ICC – there are other countries who are now also saying that this formula is not desirable and that it should be changed and be more democratic, and that every member of the board should have democratic and equal rights.

    We have been working on that and I think we’ve been helped a great deal by the fact that the former Head of the BCCI, Mr Shashank Manohar, has himself stated that he is not in favour of the Big 3 formula, and that as ICC chairman now he feels that this formula should be changed into a more democratic one.

    We now have to await the actual dismantling of the formula and it being replaced by a more democratic version. That should be the case with any democratic organisation. So we are now in the process of trying to dismantle the Big 3 formula, in which we are not the only but certainly one of the major countries that believes that this formula should be changed.

    Zimbabwe toured Pakistan successfully and it was great to see full stadiums in Lahore and international cricket returning to Pakistan. Have you got any updates regarding any other countries possibly touring Pakistan in the near future?

    The Zimbabwe tour was a huge success. There were full houses in all five matches in Lahore and there were more people outside the stadium than there were inside. It was a huge success for the public just showing the thirst for cricket and the fact that people are starved of cricket in Pakistan.

    Zimbabwe were given a huge welcome when they toured and we do have other countries lined up. We have associate countries like Ireland, Scotland and Kenya raring to go. We have other teams like the Australia Army team who have visited us before and are planning to come again later this year.

    The major event was the idea of an international team, or a Commonwealth team, coming to play in Pakistan. That tour is still on the cards but the problem is that throughout the world there is still the problem of terrorist attacks, even though the security situation in Pakistan has improved.

    But we do not want to take a risk in which a large crowd gathered in a stadium could be the subject of a terrorist attack. So these other tours have been slightly put back and I hope that the situation will improve so that we get other teams to gradually come and play in Pakistan.

    The hesitation is not just from them, it is partly from our own people who feel that this is a ready-made target for terrorists to disrupt and to make a negative impact on Pakistan’s integrity. So we want it, and there are teams willing to make the trip to Pakistan, but we are a little hesitant at the moment until the air clears for a foreign team to come and visit.

    Having said that, we do have Afghanistan who have expressed a keen desire to come over and play in Pakistan. We are ready for them and we’ll give them full security and hope that this type of visit will see a gradual return of cricket in Pakistan.

    Given the events of 2010 in England, how important is it that the current tour is controversy free?

    Our players have been fully primed to prevent such events from re-occurring. This is going to be an incident-free tour and it is going to be a tour which will bring cricket in both countries closer together. I’m quite sure that from the Pakistan side they will bring nothing but goodwill and it will be a tour that will bring the players and the two cricketing families closer together.

    Misbah-ul-Haq has been a solid performer for Pakistan since he took over as captain and has been a great ambassador for Pakistan cricket. Surely it’s important for the likes of yourself and the PCB to try and twist his arm so that he carries on as captain after the England tour?

    Yes, Misbah has been an absolutely wonderful captain, a very successful captain. We are ranked number three in the Test rankings but we are way down in limited overs rankings. I am quite certain that Misbah will lead this team on a successful tour and despite his age, we don’t see signs of a decline in his fitness and his capacity to play cricket. I will do everything I can to ensure Misbah-ul-Haq carries on playing for and captaining Pakistan.

    Misbah and Younis are the two fittest men in our young team and that says a lot about how they prepare mentally and physically for the challenges that lie ahead. I hope this tour will be a successful one and I hope that Misbah will be ready to carry on his duties as captain of the Test team against Australia and West Indies etc. From my side, I want both Misbah and Younis to continue for as long as possible.

    Are you hopeful that Mickey Arthur’s appointment can help take Pakistan cricket forward?

    I have been very impressed by Mickey Arthur, he is a very level-headed and experienced coach. He has very clear ideas of where he wants to go and we have encouraged him to implement his ideas. We are giving him our full backing and I hope that his influence is going to lead to success.

    We’ve had success in Test cricket but our limited overs cricket has been disappointing. We want to ensure that our limited overs performances improve so that we go up from our current 9th (ODI) and 7th (T20I) rankings. Mickey is fully aware of this problem as is our board and objectives are pretty clear in that sense.

    Even last month we had a long boot camp with the military in Kakul which was very successful in terms of fitness and gearing up the players physically and mentally for the challenges ahead. I sincerely hope that all this preparation is going to lead to an improvement in our performances, especially in limited overs cricket.