CEO of Haier Pakistan, Javed Afridi has featured prominently in cricket circles in recent months thanks to the success of his Peshawar Zalmi franchise in the inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL). His organisation also sponsored the recently concluded Pakistan Cup, and Afridi has been vocal in his support for the growth of cricket all over Pakistan.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.Net, Afridi spoke about his interest in Pakistan cricket, the achievements of the Peshawar Zalmi franchise, his plans for the future of the Pakistan Super League, and his push for Darren Sammy's potential honorary Pakistani citizenship.
By Amir Husain (6th May, 2016)
PakPassion.net : As the sponsor for the Pakistan Cup, you must be very happy with the overall outcome of the tournament?
Javed Afridi : If I am being honest, I am more interested in what improvements we can do in the future editions of this tournament. We must not delve on the cosmetic aspects of such a tournament. We need to look deeper into making sure that it yields results which benefit Pakistan cricket in the best way possible and is also enjoyable for all those who watch this tournament.
The inaugural version of this tournament was no doubt a great success for me as a sponsor and it also produced some good cricket but I will repeat again that we need to do some detailed analysis and determine the best way forward for this tournament. We need to take this tournament to all corners of Pakistan and, if possible, also think about making it a quarterly affair as well.
PakPassion.net : What is the prime driver behind your interest in Pakistan Cricket?
Javed Afridi : I have never played cricket in a serious way and I am just a fan. However, the sad events of 2009 when international cricket stopped in Pakistan, sprung me into action as I saw the kinds of problems Pakistan cricket was faced with. There was hardly any sponsorship for the team with the then big sponsors backing out for obvious reasons. It was a depressing situation as far as the sponsorship aspect of the game was concerned. It is at this point that Shahid ‘Lala’ Afridi and I met the PCB and asked for local and international rights so that they would not face financial pressure in the future. It was a sad time as the purpose built cricket grounds were wearing a deserted look due to lack of activity and sponsorship. The fact was that 40-50% of what was being earned locally was being sent out to support our international cricket in Dubai and Sharjah which was not allowing investment locally. I devoted the brand that I own to the betterment of Pakistan without any preconditions but I will admit that it also made sound business sense. It allowed me to introduce the Haier brand to the people of Pakistan and make it synonymous with service for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net : You work closely with the PCB, how is that experience?
Javed Afridi : To be totally frank, overall, I would say it’s not been that easy. Having said that, I have had good relations with the administration including the various PCB Chairmen and others in the organisation. Basically, it simply comes to each of us helping each other out and frankly speaking if there was not a win-win situation like this, then our partnership would have broken a long time ago as both would have backed out. Of course things can improve in this relationship and I do hope that a detailed plan to improve Pakistan cricket is put in place which will please me to no end.
PakPassion.net : So what specific changes or improvements would you like to see in Pakistan cricket?
Javed Afridi : We need to start growing our cricket like an industrial sector. This is something I would like our cricket board and federations to think about and compile some detailed plans to move things in the right direction. If PSL franchises can become such huge profitable ventures, then this shows how much potential there is to grow the game in our country. What is needed are selfless and honest efforts by all concerned and for the main actors to act for the benefit of Pakistan.
In terms of specifics, I have asked the PCB to carefully study how cricket is organised in Australia. They have turned the sport into a service industry. We seem to have no vision about how we want to organise ourselves or what we want to achieve in the next two or three years. We seem to be doing the right things but with little or no results to show for that effort. Take a look at the PSL, we organised it but no stars of the future came out of that tournament. To me this is a tragedy and we really need to dig deep to find out the reasons behind this and the reason is pretty clear. We do not have a structure at the domestic or grass-root level. Like I mentioned, we need to follow the domestic structure of Australia and use that as a basis to improve Pakistan’s domestic structure.
PakPassion.net : What's the latest regarding Darren Sammy's honorary citizenship of Pakistan?
Javed Afridi : Darren Sammy is one of the top players of the world. People obviously don’t just know him for his involvement with Peshawar Zalmi but his achievements for his national side are well known. He has led the West Indies to World Twenty20 titles on two occasions; once in 2012 and then again recently in 2016. Having such a person associated with the PSL and especially with the Peshawar Zalmi team was indeed an honour and for us this was a great opportunity to show someone like Darren all the positives about our country. In fact, I specifically instructed each of the Pakistani players in our team to ensure that whatever contact they have with Darren or for that matter with any foreign player, they should present the best possible facets of our country so that he is literally ready to come to Pakistan whenever he is asked to by us.
Turning to Darren Sammy specifically, let me tell you that this gentleman is so interested in furthering cricket in our country that he said to me that look Javed, you just tell me how I can help with promoting cricket in Pakistan. If you want me to bring my team to Pakistan, then I can assist in that. He further said that it is quite possible that the PCB and the WICB may well fail in furthering discussions on the visit by the West Indies team but I can definitely help by lobbying for that cause. We all saw how abruptly that whole matter of the West Indies tour of Pakistan was dealt with by the WICB so what Darren said had merit.
This is exactly why I requested the President of Pakistan to grant honorary citizenship to Darren Sammy as quite apart from his attitude towards helping restore international cricket in our country, such a move would create a much softer image of Pakistan. This will lead to signs of life re-appearing as far as the activity in our home grounds is concerned.
It’s been about a week or so since we asked for this and I am quite confident and very positive about the outcome of this request, God Willing.
PakPassion.net : The Peshawar Zalmi franchise is really taking off. You must be proud of its achievements so far?
Javed Afridi : Let me start by saying that I am just an ordinary fan like millions of others. This team’s achievement is not my personal achievement or something which has made me something big. Peshawar Zalmi is everyone’s team just as the team motto "Khpal Team" or "our" team implies. This is the reason that people from KhyberPakhtunwa and FATA area have made it their own team and taken it to new heights. This is their team. They have become die-hard fans and sometimes I am shocked to see them know more about this team’s events than I do! Not only that, but the feedback I am receiving via social media about how we can move this team and concept forward is absolutely extra-ordinary and does make me very proud. I had envisioned a scenario where the fan base would guide the future of this team and that is exactly what has happened.
PakPassion.net : You just alluded to future plans for Peshawar Zalmi; Can you give us an idea of what you have in mind to move this concept forward?
Javed Afridi : To start with the “Kaun Bane Ga KPK Ka Champion T20 tournament” we organised under the auspices of the Peshawar Zalmi was met with great enthusiasm by the public and also by the participants. Apart from that we also organised a talent hunt program in January this year before the PSL and that was a great success too. The most important initiative we started was the Peshawar Zalmi Foundation which is based on similar objectives as the Manchester United Foundation. The idea being that whatever revenues are earned from the activities of Peshawar Zalmi or via the help of strategic partners, a part of that will be used by Peshawar Zalmi to further cricket in the area, to run events like the talent hunt schemes and provide coaching, training, kits and equipment needed to play cricket at school level.
The next plan is to hold another talent hunt at Abbottabad. We are also interested in hosting a “World XI” team which can visit us here and play games against Peshawar Zalmi. This will be great as after a long time our players will be able to play against an international level team on our home grounds. We are in the process of figuring out the best venue for these games and will announce the names and details of the visiting team very soon.
PakPassion.net : One thing that comes out of your answers is the positive attitude you have about cricket in Pakistan. Have there been times when you thought all this wasn’t worth it?
Javed Afridi : It goes without saying that when you embark on a journey like this, there will be points where you will feel like giving up or you come across people who discourage you from moving forward. But I am clear about my objectives which are to ensure that Pakistan rises to the top in all fields. I also want to show the world that we are a peace-loving people and the misconceptions about our country are exactly that. Our youth are depressed and traumatised and it is up to us to improve our situation ourselves as really no one else will help us. These aren’t empty words, as I have sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan which speaks about a strategy and vision for improving not just cricket but other sports like football, hockey and squash. The idea is to take these sports to an era of revival via an executive plan which we are all happy to help out in creating. I have very good experience in such matters and can help in formulating such plans for the future.
PakPassion.net : What changes would you like to see for the future editions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL)?
Javed Afridi : I think foremost in my mind is the addition of a new team. I sincerely believe that the introduction of a team from Kashmir will take the PSL to even greater heights, even to the level of the Indian Premier League (IPL). When making this recommendation, I am not looking at any effect on our revenues or profits but only about how it can raise the profile of my country. I was very pleased to see fans from Kashmir at the PSL in Dubai to promote this tournament. Their positive response to this tournament was very heartening and I do believe that they deserve to be rewarded by the introduction of their own team.
PakPassion.net : What do you make of Shahid Afridi's decision to not retire from international cricket after the World Twenty20?
Javed Afridi : In my view Shahid Afridi is a legendary player and he can easily continue to play and serve the nation as before. I will really appreciate and be in complete favour of him continuing to play as before and not retire from international cricket now.
PakPassion.net : You've recently taken note of Sadaf Hussain's lack of chances. What's the plans and latest on this?
Javed Afridi : We are most definitely keeping an eye on Sadaf’s situation. In this regard, I have instructed Peshawar Zalmi’s Director of Cricket Operations, Mohammad Akram, to keep a constant lookout on the progress of this very talented player. The idea is to keep him in focus for the current activities related to Peshawar Zalmi as well as have him in our view for future editions of the Peshawar Zalmi tournament.