PCB Chief Executive Wasim Khan’s tenure which began in February 2019 has so far overseen some radical changes in the manner in which cricket is run in Pakistan. From changes to personnel, reorganisation of the domestic system and appointments of former captain Misbah-ul-Haq in multiple roles, Wasim Khan has faced kudos and criticism in equal measures from fans and media.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Wasim spoke about the positive and negative aspects of his tenure so far, the challenge of changing attitudes within the organisation, criticism regarding multiple roles for Misbah-ul-Haq, revival of international cricket in Pakistan, and the thorny issue of bilateral series against India.
By Amir Husain (4th October, 2020)
PakPassion.net: What do you feel has gone well so far in your tenure at the PCB?
Wasim Khan: When I started my tenure in February 2019, I mentioned three main objectives. One goal was to achieve the restructuring of domestic cricket which was to reduce the number of teams and which was also Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision for us to implement.
The second important objective was to get Test cricket back on our home soil. Obviously, we had international white-ball cricket being played in Pakistan, courtesy of the West Indies and other sides, but we had to pay those countries to come and play here. I am happy to say that since that unfortunate incident in 2009 involving the Sri Lankan cricket team, we did manage to get Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to play Tests in Pakistan and we also managed to get the MCC over. This was another major achievement for us as this was MCC’s first tour of Pakistan in 48 years.
Thirdly, we managed to get the Pakistan Super League (PSL) played in its entirety in Pakistan which we did with a high degree of success. We had almost half a million fans watch PSL games across all venues which isn’t an easy thing when you consider the fact that you don’t have the practical and logistical systems in place at all venues. So, to run high-class cricket games at four venues was a tough challenge and one that we hadn’t done for a long time. All of this involved a huge amount of work for the PCB and the proof of that is in the pudding as witnessed by full houses in all stadia.
And of course, given that the PCB hasn’t had a clear direction for a very long time in terms of where it’s going as an organisation and what it wants to achieve, the five-year strategic plan we put together was another significant achievement for us. This plan has provided a tracking mechanism to see if we are delivering what we have promised and we are now monitoring our progress on this plan. I am also glad to say that we’ve made some good strides across some of these key areas and hopefully we have one county team coming over in February-March which again is another step forward. We also have Zimbabwe coming in November and the remaining 4 games of the PSL and if things go well, we should have South Africa coming over to Pakistan in January as well.
PakPassion.net: Give us an overview regarding the establishment of the High-Performance Centre in Lahore?
Wasim Khan: We disbanded the National Cricket Academy and brought in the likes of Nadeem Khan, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mohammad Yousaf, Atiq-uz-Zaman and Mohammad Zahid to bring freshness and a new energy in line with the framework we set out. We have also brought in Grant Bradburn who is in charge of coach education and he will look after the courses we offer. It wasn’t right that a full coaching course that takes 2 years to complete around the world, was taking 4-5 weeks at the PCB after which a completion certificate was awarded. People had complained to me that whilst we are talking about taking on the Australian model for our cricket, no one in Australia was getting a full coaching qualification in just 4-5 weeks! This was the somewhat poor quality of our coach qualification process which was in place but it was clear to me that if we truly wanted to be world-class in this aspect then we had to revamp this area and I feel that Grant Bradburn is an excellent choice as he knows this inside out.
PakPassion.net: Removing some of the old-timers from PCB has not gone down too well has it?
Wasim Khan: As we have seen, some of the old faces at the PCB have gone and I made some brave decisions in terms of not renewing some contracts and removing others from their positions. From day 1 of my tenure, I had said that we needed hungry people at the PCB, people who want to move Pakistan cricket forward, who love Pakistan cricket and want to do something good for our country. Working at the PCB should be a privilege and not a self-serving assignment. Unfortunately, we had too many of those kinds of people at the PCB and for far too long. I wanted to shake up this structure and be a bit of disruptor and that was my aim and one that I feel I have achieved to a great extent.
PakPassion.net: How difficult is it to bring changes to attitudes in an organisation like PCB?
Wasim Khan: We are also the only country in the world who have announced a full domestic program for the 2020/21 season which considering the circumstances is a huge milestone, for which our team at the PCB deserve a lot of praise. We have some very good and exceptional people working at the PCB right now, and we are moving things forward. It’s not an easy environment to come into and move forward. People don’t like change here and its tough trying to get things through but ultimately, you have to push through, stay strong and resilient about what you are trying to do, and you always have to keep your focus.
I am moving Pakistan cricket forward, and with no baggage of being here before is allowing me to look at things with fresh eyes. You need to make changes where necessary but if you re-hire the same type of people, you will get the same results as before and nothing will change. My job was to come in with a fresh outlook and make brave changes. If it needed to be changed then that’s what we were going to do and that’s what we have done. In this respect, bringing in people like Younis Khan and Saqlain Mushtaq can only bode well for Pakistan cricket. I feel that there are a lot of ex-players who can add significant value to Pakistan cricket and it’s not tokenism we are aiming for. All of these players have a lot to offer and have a lot of passion for Pakistan cricket and they want to contribute so you can’t turn your nose up at that when such players want to get involved.
PakPassion.net: What has not gone so well in your tenure so far?
Wasim Khan: I feel that the process of trying to get Cricket Associations to register has been quite slow and it has taken far longer than what we would have wanted. Given that the new PCB constitution came into effect on August 19th of last year, so by this stage ideally, we would have expected the interim committees to be in place, and the six cricket associations to be registered. However, at present one of them is registered as a society, but the registrations for the other five are in progress. Unfortunately, a combination of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in offices being closed for 3-4 months, plus the bureaucracy which exists in most levels in Pakistan has probably meant that things have been a lot slower than what we would have wanted.
PakPassion.net: How serious is the current disagreement between PCB and the PSL Franchise owners?
Wasim Khan: We are currently trying to work our way through the issues with PSL franchise owners. It’s not an ideal solution but we are confident that we will find a middle ground that will work for them and work for us. These guys have ultimately invested in Pakistan cricket and cricket is in their DNA, and they want to move it forward and we want to do likewise. So, I am confident that a meeting of minds will no doubt happen soon and we can put this whole issue to bed, and continue to have a good working relationship that we have had in the past.
PakPassion.net: Are there plans to give Younis Khan a permanent coaching role?
Wasim Khan: We are speaking to Younis and whilst nothing has been agreed as yet, it is something which is an ongoing conversation. There is a willingness from all parties for Younis to continue in his role, but it all depends on his commitments which he already has in place. The feedback we have had on Younis has been outstanding regarding his contribution during the tour of England and we will keep on talking to him.
PakPassion.net: Were you satisfied with the performances of the Pakistan coaching staff on the tour of England?
Wasim Khan: We had some excellent feedback on Mushtaq Ahmed, Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq. All of them worked fantastically well in a tough bio-secure environment for 10 weeks which isn’t easy given that you have to spend so much time together in a restricted space. Having said that, this is an issue of horses for courses and I always felt that the likes of Younis Khan and Mushtaq Ahmed would have a big role to play in England for two reasons. One is that they bring people together and unite them and secondly, because of their experience of playing in England where their record is second to none. So, having that sort of experience in your locker room again England proved to be invaluable for us.
PakPassion.net: How do you respond to the criticism that you have only hired former players at PCB just to keep them quiet?
Wasim Khan: Look, firstly everyone is entitled to their opinion but in the case of Yousuf and Basit, you have people who have the best interests of Pakistan cricket in their hearts, so we know that they are criticising for the right reasons. They have no ulterior agendas and they are people who have played this game at the highest level, done it and seen it all. This is different and has less of a bearing and impact to those who haven’t played the game. Of course, I am not implying that if you haven’t played the game, you are not entitled to your opinions – of course such people will also have good opinions.
What people should see is that in my tenure, I haven’t taken easy options and regardless of what these cricketers say, I am not going to change my views on what makes them important to us. We have a brand-new High-Performance Program and delivery framework about how we expect the coaches to coach and we believe that this is the best crop we have. I wasn’t involved in the interview or the 4-stage selection process, that was carried out by Nadeem Khan, Saqlain Mushtaq and Grant Bradburn and I was only given the list of coaches that had been selected. The selection panel were most qualified to make the right decision on people based upon their skills and capability. So, its rubbish to say that I hired these coaches.
My track record clearly shows that I don’t shirk from taking unpopular decisions but then everyone has an opinion and you will never appease everyone. I genuinely believe that all these guys we have hired have a lot to offer. So, Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan and Basit Ali are the sort of guys you know will be able to contribute as they have a wealth of knowledge and experience and that is something which they can help Pakistan cricket with which is my only concern. It’s not that just because if someone shouts on YouTube, I will suddenly give them a job and am afraid that tells you more about the mentality of people who suggest that, rather than mine.
PakPassion.net: Is there a possibility that Shoaib Akhtar could be hired for a role at the PCB?
Wasim Khan: We never say never. Obviously Shoaib Akhtar is another who is very passionate about Pakistan cricket and he has a huge amount of value to offer. Whilst no decisions have been made about any more hires at the moment, the fact is that during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, players like Shoaib Akhtar, Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and Wasim Akram gave up their time to impart knowledge to our current players. Some of these players will be part of the system, whilst others will be outside the system. But what is important is to note that each of these players have a desire to move Pakistan cricket forward so we will always welcome the likes of Shoaib Akhtar and others to contribute to and support Pakistan cricket like they always have done in the past.
PakPassion.net: Given the goodwill generated by Pakistan’s tour of England, do you expect the ECB to send their team to Pakistan in 2022?
Wasim Khan: Yes, from what I understand there is every desire to make that happen by the ECB. We expect the ECB to come over next year to start looking at venues and there really is no reason to assume that the England side will not come to Pakistan in 2022. Most importantly, the CEO and the new Chairman of the ECB are keen to make this tour happen. We are looking forward to welcoming England in 2022 as we are South Africa in January 2021 and then New Zealand, followed by Australia in 2022 as well. We have two big years ahead of us and the MCC tour has paved the way for county sides to visit Pakistan as well. We are also looking to bring in tours by A sides in the future.
With the four big nations coming over to Pakistan, without any disrespect to other cricket playing countries, I have to say that we deserve it as we have worked hard to make it happen. Cricket needs these tours to happen in Pakistan and the fans also deserve to see some of the top nations play cricket on their soil. We have already been offering the best safety and security as mentioned recently by Shane Watson who said that Pakistan is as safe as any other country to play cricket which is based on the fact that we had 40 overseas players here for 4 weeks during PSL 5. They have all gone back with positive experiences as have MCC and county players. That’s exactly what we want which is to change people’s perception of reality of what’s going in Pakistan. We are in a great place at the moment and we would like that to continue into the future.
PakPassion.net: Have ECB expressed any specific reservations about coming to Pakistan in 2022?
Wasim Khan: No, they haven’t expressed anything specific and I feel that there is a huge openness from the ECB in regards to this matter. We are still two years away and it’s still too early for people to genuinely ask the question about any reservations on ECB’s behalf. As far as we know, England will tour Pakistan in 2022 and we will start planning closer to that time. The world changes constantly and we will be hoping that it will be changing for the good and we will be looking forward to welcoming all 4 countries to Pakistan in the near future.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts regarding Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez and their meeting with PM Imran Khan?
Wasim Khan: We will be meeting with all three players, as there is disappointment from our side. Particularly, when we consider that one of the persons involved is your Head Coach and Chief of Selectors, and the other is your captain of the Test side. To find out the day before that they were going to meet the Prime Minister of Pakistan was rather disappointing for us to hear about. However, this is a private conversation that the Chairman, Ehsan Mani, and I will have with those individuals and will happen whenever they are available.
PakPassion.net: What would be your assessment of Pakistan’s tour of England?
Wasim Khan: I do feel that we were a little unlucky in England as had we gone one nil up after the first Test, it could well have been an entirely different series. I believe we fought well and played the moving ball as well as any other Pakistan team to have visited England. We showed a huge amount of fight and blooded quite a few youngsters on this tour. Of course, the bottom line as people will point out, is that we lost the Test series but I would counter that by saying that there were a huge number of positives and the biggest one was that our youngsters gained a lot of valuable experience from the tour. When you see that our players hadn’t played any cricket for five months whilst England had just played a series against West Indies and had built some momentum, if you take all those things into consideration, it was a decent series for us although the result was disappointing.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts on Misbah-ul-Haq’s performance so far, and do you think the dual role is working?
Wasim Khan: The Cricket Committee will conduct a full review of the tour of England and given that Misbah took over his current roles about a year ago, they will also make a full assessment of his performance during this period. If Misbah were to provide an honest assessment, he would probably say that it’s been a mixed year. Misbah is an honest guy and works pretty hard and he will have a long hard look at what he has achieved. In terms of Misbah’s dual role as a Head Coach and Chief Selector, we will have a discussion with him on this subject and certainly about workloads. One point to note is that Younis Khan came into the fold as a batting consultant for the tour of England and if he continues in a similar role, then that will alleviate some of the burden on Misbah’s shoulders.
As I always say to our critics in Pakistan, please give us some solutions because whenever we ask about who we can replace certain players or coaches with, everyone goes quiet. Criticism and pointing fingers are easy but why not give us solutions for example why not tell us your top 3 coaches who could replace Misbah? This is the kind of challenge we face as changes to any structure or system can only be made if you have better people to bring in. Right now, Misbah is the incumbent, he is working hard, he is doing the best he can for Pakistan which he has also done over the past 10 years. Opinions will be divided as fans and media will have their opinions, and that is a healthy thing, but this is something we are trying to manage and will have conversations on this subject with Misbah over the coming weeks.
PakPassion.net: How do you feel Azhar Ali and Babar Azam are doing as captains?
Wasim Khan: In Azhar’s case, we know that he hasn’t captained Pakistan for long and needs a level of development to his captaincy. The situation he found in the first Test during the tour of England was very challenging and a pressurised atmosphere, but he will learn from that and will improve, and get better. Babar is a young guy but as we have seen with Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, whenever captaincy is given to such players, its either a burden or allows them to fully flow, improve and get better, and to take on the responsibility. Babar is certainly a very inexperienced captain, but he will develop. Captains around the world have been known to have developed when thrown in at the deep end. We have seen Graeme Smith who was made captain at the age of 22 who hadn’t any captaincy experience and there he was playing and captaining senior players.
The fact is that if people have the right skills and character then captaincy doesn’t become a burden. Instead it becomes something they are enthralled by and it’s a motivating factor, and they want to lead from the front, and take great delight in leading. Babar certainly is not one to shirk away from responsibility and he will only improve and get better. The good thing is that he will always have experience he can draw upon and he will know that he is not there all alone. We are trying to develop 11 leaders on the field. We are also trying to develop the thinking of some of our Under 19 players so that they can become future leaders and support the captain, have an opinion and not be afraid to share their opinion which will create constructive conflict. The very best high-performing teams have those characteristics within their environments. These are the kinds of things we want to develop in our team environment and ones that will keep on developing as part of the High-Performance system we have set up.
PakPassion.net: Is Pakistan and India playing in the future a distant dream?
Wasim Khan: We need to move on from this whole idea because whilst this current government is in place in India, the chances of bilateral series happening are dim. The BCCI have to get government of India’s permission before they play Pakistan and that’s a fact. So, based on that and the current regime in power, their outlook on life and their opinions on certain matters including their views on Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that in the near future, Pakistan will play India. We just signed a deal with PTV and cable operators which will generate $200m over the next three years and it’s very important that we as a Board become self-sustainable and that is something, we are working on so that the PCB is in a position to invest in the right areas. We will continue to play India in ICC tournaments but in terms of bilateral cricket I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. We have got a lot to look forward to in the next two years and I think we need to focus on the amount of cricket which is coming up. We also have 3 World Cups in the next 3 years, and we have four of the biggest cricket nations coming to play in Pakistan.
My message to fans and followers of Pakistan cricket is that we have achieved a lot so far and there is still a lot of hard work ahead, but, Pakistan cricket has a lot to look forward to without worrying about playing India.