Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ehsan Mani spoke on a variety of topics including the qualities that the newly appointed Managing Director Wasim Khan has brought to the organisation, his views on the Sarfaraz Ahmed incident in South Africa and the unsatisfactory handling of the issue by the ICC, the possibility of a bilateral series with India in the future and Bangladesh's tour of Pakistan.
By Saj Sadiq (26th February, 2019)PakPassion.net: How do you feel your first few months have gone as PCB Chairman? What do you say to those who feel that the pace of change in your tenure has been slow?
Ehsan Mani: To the people from the outside, there may be an appearance of things moving a little slowly as far as progress at the PCB is concerned but let me tell you that a lot is going on. When I came to the PCB, we were in the middle of tendering the PSL broadcast rights and that is a big process. Although, I wasn’t directly involved in this but the governance of that, the supervision and the approvals all took a lot of time. We managed to achieve over three times what we started off with which is a big achievement and we now have a situation where the franchises will get maybe twice of what they got in the last three years. These things don’t happen overnight and there is a lot of hard work that goes into it. As for other matters, I am not going to take any actions at the PCB until and unless I understand the issues. So far, we have had our anti-corruption and security department reviewed. Similarly, we have set up a Cricket Committee as there had been an absence of a structured approach when looking at cricket in Pakistan. We are also in the process of a huge review of domestic cricket so that we can affect a fundamental but a sustainable change. The idea being that what we put in place now will be the building-blocks for the future. When you look at the performance of the team, you can see that ODI and T20I cricket is having an impact on our Test cricketers where the ability to play long innings and to cope under pressure is missing from their game. What we need to do is to put in a structure to deal with such problems but to do that not only do we need to fix the domestic structure, we also need the right resources who can build on this such as professional physiotherapists and other technical support. The fact is that we rely too much on overseas expertise so we need to build upon our capacities in this regard and all this cannot be done overnight. To give another example, in Pakistan we do not have a sports medicine institute, so now we will have to arrange for our professionals in this area to be trained abroad so that eventually we can bring those skills back to Pakistan.All that I have mentioned are fundamental things that other countries take for granted and something which we do not have. There are no university courses for sports administration so when you look for resources to strengthen this aspect of our cricket, you have to look outside the sports industry for assistance. There are undoubtedly skills gaps at the PCB but to fix that we cannot just rush and pick the first person based on someone’s personal recommendation and I will take decisions after a thorough analysis of what is required. Looking ahead, after the PSL, we intend to review the PCB marketing department. We know that marketing has been good as far as the PSL is concerned but that function in the PCB is non-existent. So, for example, I found out that the PCB even buys their own player kits whereas everywhere else in the world, these costs are covered by the sponsors. In addition, the governance structures need to be changed in the PCB, as previously there was very little transparency and we were operating in a closed manner which is not what I believe in. In summary, I am not here to make a revolutionary change from Day 1, instead I want to put in structures, systems and processes which will carry Pakistan cricket forward for the next 20-30 years.PakPassion.net: What skills or qualities do you feel Wasim Khan has brought to the PCB and what are his priorities?
Ehsan Mani: Let me answer that question by pointing out that the PCB is one of the largest cricket boards in terms of its human resources but what is needed is a good balance between quantity and quality of personnel. When we talk about Wasim Khan, we should realise that he has been used to working in a system which is very structured and similar to all the other cricket boards around the world. If we look at the management structures of other boards, there is a Board of Directors and there is a Chairman who in most countries is non-executive but, in some instances, would be a little more hands-on. In our system, the Chairman is also the Chief Executive which to my mind represents a conflict of interest from a governance point of view and also an operational point of view. In such an environment, Wasim brings a sound knowledge of the structures that I am used to working with and is also the way every other cricket board works, except Pakistan. Initially, after the proposed constitutional changes, Wasim will eventually be delegated with the Chief Executive’s powers. We have to understand that the role of the Chairman is to be the link between the Board of Governors, who set the policies and strategies. Most importantly, the execution of those policies is done by the Chief Executive. At the moment, I am doing both the roles which leads to a conflict of interest. On top of that, if I make a mistake in the implementation of the Board’s policies, there is no one to challenge it. This is where Wasim’s presence in the PCB is very important. He has the added advantage of having played First-class cricket in England and has also played cricket in Australia. He has very good relationships with other cricket boards around the world, he was on the ECB’s Anti-Corruption committee and was involved in the distribution of funding which is provided to the Counties by the ECB. Wasim was also involved in a charity called “Chance to Shine” which is a project that took cricket to the grass-roots level in schools. This is an important aspect of his experience as one of the biggest problems we have in Pakistan is that we don’t have a structure or a system of cricket at the school level today. Our club cricket has been hit for six as there is corruption in the form of false clubs or those that just exist on paper. So, there is a huge amount of work that has to be done and rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, isn’t it far better that we get someone who already has this knowledge and skills to do the job? Apart from those skills, Wasim also understands good governance and as I remarked earlier, he has good relations with other cricket boards and his credibility is very high amongst those organisations.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on the Sarfaraz Ahmed incident in South Africa?
Ehsan Mani: Let me start by saying that what Sarfaraz said was totally unacceptable. There should be no doubts about it. There is no way you can make any excuse for anyone making a comment of that nature, no matter how naive or innocent one is as there is no place for such behaviour. An important aspect of this issue relates to how this incident was handled by the PCB. Once Sarfaraz realised the seriousness of what he had said, he apologised immediately. The Pakistan Cricket Board sent out a press release stating that we were very upset with what had been said and we apologised as well. We were immediately in contact with Cricket South Africa at a management level with our COO, Subhan Ahmad, speaking to their CEO to apologise personally and that apology was accepted straight away. In addition, Sarfaraz Ahmed and the Pakistan Team Manager met Andile Phehlukwayo and South Africa's Team Manager Mohammed Moosajee. Sarfaraz’s apology was accepted in that meeting. Let me also make it clear that, before the ICC intervened, we ourselves were prepared to withdraw Sarfaraz Ahmed from the rest of the series. There is no doubt in my mind about that course of action as racism is a very sensitive issue, particularly in South Africa, and for Sarfaraz to play in the remaining matches where he could have been booed and the atmosphere would have been charged was not needed and clearly not in the best interest of the game. This was also an important step, as it would have made our players realise that there are certain lines you do not cross. There were absolutely no doubts in mind about this course of action. PakPassion.net: So, if the PCB was against Sarfaraz Ahmed playing the 3rd ODI, why did he play in that match?
Ehsan Mani: When the whole matter came to light, Sarfaraz apologised and we were still gathering all the facts after the incident in the 2nd ODI and we were also in discussions with the ICC. Unless we had all the facts about the matter in front of us, we would not be doing justice to anyone by taking a decision. You can only act when all facts are known, and they were not clear at the time of the 3rd ODI.PakPassion.net: Why was PCB disappointed with ICC's decision regarding the 4-match ban on Sarfaraz Ahmed?
Ehsan Mani: What we said to the ICC was that we would take the necessary action against Sarfaraz Ahmed. However, the ICC were not involved in this reconciliation process between South Africa and Pakistan and they wanted to play a part in this issue. We explained to them that we have done all that was required with apologies being tendered thrice and accepted and we would like to move on and would also take the appropriate disciplinary action in the same way the ICC would have done. We assured them that we would of course, consult them about any actions to be taken against Sarfaraz Ahmed. However, the ICC for some strange reason felt that they themselves should be involved with the players, so they decided to get them into a room and give them a long lecture on the racism issue and start a reconciliation process. What they didn’t seem to understand is that that reconciliation process had already taken place. Even the South African side said that yes, we have been through this already and the ICC were regurgitating the same narrative again and again. Let’s be clear, the South African side was exceedingly upset by Sarfaraz’s remarks but in the larger interest of the game, they said that we have accepted the apology and we want to move on and not take part in any further discussions on the matter. The ICC then decided to charge Sarfaraz Ahmed. In my view the ICC’s actions were totally out of line and unnecessary and there was a lack of common sense in the way the matter was handled. The ICC did tell us in advance that they would charge Sarfaraz, but we told them that we were opposed to it. The strange things is that the ICC match referee in South Africa knew that the reconciliation meetings between Pakistan and South Africa sides were taking place, so why was he not instructed by the ICC to join in? To be honest, I am not impressed by the way the ICC handled the matter.PakPassion.net: After the ban was announced, whose decision was it for Sarfaraz Ahmed to be sent home?
Ehsan Mani: We had already told the ICC that we would pull Sarfaraz Ahmed out of the 4th and 5th ODIs so that we could assess the matter. Let’s be clear, there is no fudging this, and our position is very clear. Sending Sarfaraz back to Pakistan was a mutually agreed position with him as he was obviously upset and also under pressure from the whole event. Since he was banned for four games, he could have played in the final T20I of the 3-match series, but it would not have been great for the team to have him hanging around the dressing room being a captain who had been suspended and could not play. He would have found it frustrating and it would have put a lot of pressure on him and his standing, and there would have been little benefit for the side to have Sarfaraz there.PakPassion.net: In light of this incident, what message did you give to Sarfaraz Ahmed when you spoke to him in Lahore?
Ehsan Mani: My message to him was clear and it was for him to learn from his mistakes. Whether it's on the field or off the field, you cannot say things like that. Obviously, somewhere along the line, the PCB has let the players down if we didn’t get that message across to them. I further told Sarfaraz that look you committed a mistake and said something on the spur of the moment, now you need to learn from it and concentrate on your game.PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on Fawad Chaudhry’s comments about the next PSL tournament in 2020 being held completely in Pakistan?
Ehsan Mani: Our aspirations are to hold as many matches of the PSL as possible in Pakistan next year. Certainly, I would like to see a majority of the games to be played in Pakistan. This year is important in terms of foreign cricket teams and players in Pakistan as we see that the West Indies Women’s side have already played a T20I series in Karachi. It was unfortunate that Cricket Australia were nervous about sending their side to play any ODIs in Pakistan. We have been talking to them about this issue and there needs to be mutual consent on both sides for something of this nature to go ahead. We also have to accept the fact that from time to time, there are incidents in Pakistan which make foreign sides cautious about visiting the country. Now these incidents could be in totally remote areas of Pakistan but a person looking from the outside does not know that. To explain and show things are not as they seem, we have invited the Chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) to come and see some of the PSL games so that he can understand and see the situation for himself. We are also using the security consultants that the ICC have recommended and are, incidentally, also used by Cricket Australia and some other boards too. The security aspect is something I will not compromise on and I would like all parties to be comfortable about it. It is our responsibility as the PCB to ensure that we convince and show them that Pakistan is indeed a safe place to tour, which it is. Since the start of my tenure, we have had between 30-40 foreign guests of the PCB come to the country. We had the Asian Cricket Council’s Annual General meeting in Lahore in which between 24-26 foreign delegates came to attend. Similarly, the Chief Executive of the ICC has been to Pakistan and so have others and none of them have felt insecure or threatened. Coming back to the issue of all PSL games in Pakistan, I would say that when this PSL is over and taken place without any incident, we will make the appropriate decision for how we wish to proceed next year.PakPassion.net: Are Cricket Australia open to playing matches in Pakistan in the future?
Ehsan Mani: Whilst Australia have agreed to play a 5-match ODI series in UAE this time, they are totally committed that next time they play in a Pakistan home series in 2022, they will do everything possible to come to Pakistan. PakPassion.net: Will the National Stadium in Karachi be ready for PSL games, including the final?
Ehsan Mani: I get progress reports on work at the National Stadium every week as I am concerned about it like most people are. The contractors tasked with the work have assured us that they will have the roof in place in time for the PSL. There is already quite a lot of the roof in position and they continue to work on it. Most, if not all, of the roof should be in place by now and the construction work will start winding down soon.PakPassion.net: Is a bilateral series with India still a possibility despite recent events and the MoU case judgement?
Ehsan Mani: I always felt that, although I wasn’t involved in the decision-making process regarding the whole MoU case issue, that this was not the way to go forward. Whereas Pakistan did have a strong case it is wrong to end up in a litigation case with a fellow member of the ICC. These things are best discussed across a table in a calm atmosphere without pressure. However, what has happened has happened and there is no point looking back at this now. As far as our relations with the current setup of the BCCI are concerned, they are good and I have the highest regard for them and they in return, are very courteous and friendly with us. We do need to keep two things in mind. Firstly, the BCCI’s own elections are going to take place soon. At the moment, they are being run by a Committee of Administrators and that will be replaced by elected officials. Secondly, there are general elections in India coming up so until both these events have taken place and are out of the way, there is no point talking about a bilateral series as the people in power may not be there. This to me is a common-sense approach and one that we will adhere to.PakPassion.net: Is Pakistan going ahead with payment of legal costs and what is the final number for that amount?
Ehsan Mani: The PCB has already paid the legal costs as decided by the Dispute Resolution Committee. It was a decision of the tribunal and we accepted it and we are moving on. In fact, we paid the amount within a week after we were told about the amount by the ICC. There was nothing to be gained from avoiding the payment as it would not have achieved anything. Our Board of Governors reviewed the outcome of the case and costs involved, we also got an external opinion from lawyers and it was clear that there was no grounds for appeal. The costs were simply a consequence of the decision of the tribunal. The costs themselves are not hidden in any way as they will be in our financial statement, but the ballpark number is between 1 to 1.3 million US Dollars which are made up of amounts in different currencies such as GBP, USD and INR. In addition, we have received some ICC costs that we are reviewing now and waiting for a formal invoice before payment is made, but that amount would not be more than 150,000 US Dollars. PakPassion.net: Will the home series scheduled against Bangladesh early next year be hosted in Pakistan?
Ehsan Mani: Yes, we are talking to the Bangladesh Cricket Board about it, and there is no doubt that they will be a very popular side to visit Pakistan so it would be great to host them in our country. The challenges we face are that we just cannot hold matches in Karachi and Lahore only, we have to be able to spread them around as the rest of the country is starved of international cricket. We just need to work out the logistics and arrangements for this. I am very hopeful that Bangladesh will agree to play the matches in Pakistan. It's too early to say if this happens as like everyone else, they too will carry out a security assessment which we also do when we go on tours. PakPassion.net: Is the UAE going to be the home of Pakistan cricket for the foreseeable future or are you considering alternate locations?
Ehsan Mani: To be honest, the only alternate avenue to the UAE for us is Pakistan. We are hopeful that there will be more matches played in Pakistan as we move forward. But when we talk about alternates to Pakistan as venues, the fact is that proximity is important as it allows us to fly people in and out with ease when events are taking place away from home. The flying times between say Islamabad, Lahore and Dubai is manageable. However, once you start going out to places which have been mentioned in the past as alternate locations like Sri Lanka or Malaysia, then the logistics become that much more difficult to handle.