In a wide ranging exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the Chief Executive of Pakistan Cricket Board Wasim Khan, spoke about his future at the PCB, the status of proposed tours to Pakistan by England, New Zealand and Australia, his meeting with Mohammad Amir, his thoughts on Younis Khan's resignation, the progress on several projects within Pakistan cricket, his assessment of the current team’s and coach’s performance and his message of exercising patience to all Pakistan cricket fans.
By Saj Sadiq (22nd July, 2021)
PakPassion.net: What’s the latest update regarding your future at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)?
Wasim Khan: The current situation as it stands based upon informal conversations with PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani is that there is a desire for me to continue for a further three years but that’s subject to ratification by the Board of Governors. My contract expires at the end of January 2022 so there’s no hurry right now in terms of making a decision on this issue. Certainly, from my side there is a lot of work still to be done and we are starting to gain some momentum behind the scenes in a lot of areas that we are trying to develop. So, it’s really just waiting to see what the next steps are for the PCB and taking it from there. Regardless of how this pans out, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time during my tenure and will continue to do so in the future.
PakPassion.net: If an extension was offered to you, would you accept it or are you looking to move on to a new challenge?
Wasim Khan: I clearly need to think it over because my family is back in the UK. However, we also have a big year for Pakistan cricket in 2022 with Australia coming in February and England coming for an extended period before the World Cup and also after the event so there’s lots of cricket coming up. In addition, we’ve also applied to host some ICC events and should our bids be successful, work on the organization of these events will need to begin early next year too. Clearly, there’s a lot to be done in the near term and the future and those are precisely the sorts of factors that I would need to consider before I make any decision.
PakPassion.net: Why are you still seen by some as the foreigner who is trying to damage Pakistan cricket?
Wasim Khan: My intelligent response to that point is do a comparative study in terms of what was done previously and what has been done in the last two and a half years. There are a number of things you can look at during that period of time and you can start with the revival of Test cricket in particular. Trust is built through relationships and relationships come through individuals. I know the conversations that I’ve had to have with Australia, England and New Zealand and which I am continuing to have with them, all of which are based upon our good relationships and a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to make that happen.
We had the MCC tour for the first time led by Kumar Sangakkara and that paved the way for visits by other overseas teams. We’ve changed the domestic structure based on the Prime-Minister’s vision of going down to 6 teams. Our focus is to get a high-quality domestic cricket set-up that can translate into similar performances in international cricket with the players coming through this system. When you change a whole system, you aren’t going to get results in 6 months, but if you speak to players who are currently playing domestic cricket and ask them about the quality of the cricket being played, the pitches and the hotels they stay in compared to what it used to be, you will hear a lot of praise for these changes. It will take more time and year after year it will get stronger and better, but we just need to remain patient. However, on the field, we do need to look at why we are still going to places like New Zealand and Australia and losing, and what improvements we need to make to fix this problem.
PakPassion.net: What are the other areas where you feel you have made progress at the PCB?
Wasim Khan: We’ve made good strides in women’s cricket and in creating a more professional and equitable system. We’ve tried to involve more of our former stars like Saqlain Mushtaq, Mohammad Yousuf, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq to uplift the quality of our cricket and cricketers. In doing so, we’ve tried to leverage the skills provided by the stars of yesterday to add value to Pakistan cricket. Now whether it works or not is a separate matter but certainly from our perspective one of my key goals was to engage these past players because when I arrived on the scene, I couldn’t understand the level of hostility and lack of trust between former players and the PCB. So, I’ve gone out my way to try and build good relationships with these guys and communicated and engaged with them and listened to their ideas and thoughts because it’s important that we have these stars contributing to Pakistan cricket.
We’ve also re-vamped the NHPC and in doing so, I feel that we’ve got a framework now for the long-term success of Pakistan cricket. We currently have just under 4000 cricket clubs that will be up and running from September. This did take longer than we had planned because we had to go through due process as a lot of phantom clubs existed from the 3500 club names, we were given two and a half years ago. Many of those clubs did not even exist and that is the level of corruption and dishonesty that was going on. We’ve got the six cricket associations set up with their own Boards, we are holding coaching clinics, umpiring clinics and we’ve employed close to 100 coaches who are ex-players and are now going to be working across our 93 cities as part of our city cricket associations.
We’ve played over 220 domestic matches since September during this Global Pandemic which is no small achievement and it’s a hell of an effort from the PCB staff to ensure that cricket went on despite the challenges we faced and continue to face. We completed PSL 5 and PSL 6 under difficult and challenging circumstances, we’ve got people on the ICC Board now and we’ve got more ICC Committee members now than ever before. We continue to engage in a lot of corporate initiatives such as renewing our relationship with the Shahid Afridi Foundation.
PakPassion.net: What would you say to those who are very concerned about the current standard of Pakistan teams across all formats?
Wasim Khan: All I will say is that we’ve taken small steps to improve Pakistan cricket, and it’s not been easy. I always believe if you want to do things sustainably then you need to think them through properly, but I can’t thank the Pakistani fans enough. Yes, they are frustrated, but trust me I’m as frustrated as anybody when we don’t perform on the field, as are the players despite what people might think. The players do care deeply about representing their country and we will continue to strive to get better and better. But patience has to be the key because we are starting from a position of inconsistency, and we are trying to root that out, but this issue has always been at the heart of our game for the last 30 years and nothing much was done to change that, and nobody can tell me otherwise.
PakPassion.net: There are some allegations that the PCB is overlooking the importance of Test cricket. What’s your response?
Wasim Khan: We want to be successful in Test cricket which is the pinnacle of this sport for every country. If you ask most cricket fans, they will agree with this sentiment and say that Test cricket is critical and important for us. So, playing more Test cricket is really important in our point of view but there’s a misconception amongst some that we reduced one Test on the tour of the Caribbean in favour of playing more T20Is. The bottom line is Cricket West Indies (CWI) is struggling financially at the moment and holding an additional Test match would have cost them a huge amount of money. So, we’ve tried to support each other particularly with South Africa and West Indies who along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have been huge supporters of Pakistan in the past. When CWI’s request came, we did push back to keep it as 3 Tests but then we backed off as we also understood that this demand was not financially viable for them and we certainly didn’t want to put them in a tough position. It wasn’t just done to add more T20Is as we don’t receive a single penny when we visit other countries for playing more T20Is. After all, it’s their home series not ours. There were misconceptions that we did it for money which is completely wrong because there is no monetary gain in it for us at all.
PakPassion.net: What’s the update regarding England’s tour of Pakistan this year?
Wasim Khan: At the moment it’s all systems go and there’s nothing to suggest that England will not tour Pakistan. There’s a strong feeling that they absolutely want to make that tour happen and it’s clearly in the diary. COVID-19 considerations permitting, we fully expect that tour to go ahead as planned.
PakPassion.net: In addition to England, there are quite a few other home series scheduled, are they all on track?
Wasim Khan: Absolutely, we are expecting New Zealand to visit Pakistan to play 3 ODIs and 5 T20Is. In addition, West Indies are due in Pakistan in December for 3 T20Is and 3 ODIs and we have Australia due in February so it’s a busy period and we have lots to look forward to in the next eight months ahead of us. We’ve finalised the itinerary for the tour by New Zealand and they’ll be sending their people over in August to check security and COVID-19 related protocols and we expect this stage of the proceedings to go swimmingly well.
With Australia, we are just finalising the schedule at the moment and I don’t see no reason why either of those countries will not be touring Pakistan. We have said all along that sport and COVID-19 have to co-exist and cricket is exactly the same. We are part of the sporting fraternity so life must go on. But we also know that the health and well-being of players is paramount, and we will continue to do whatever we can to make sure we put all the required processes in place and for this purpose, we will engage with the same external agency that we used in Abu Dhabi for the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Obviously, with our earlier experiences, we now are wiser in terms of what we need to put in place to ensure that all goes well and we will leave nothing to chance.
PakPassion.net: There is a potential issue with next year’s Pakistan Super League clashing with the Indian Premier League (IPL). What are the other options for next year’s PSL?
Wasim Khan: We are going to be speaking with the franchises over the next few days regarding this issue. The fact is that Australia is returning to Pakistan after 22 years and there is no other opportunity to play them except during this period of time. Cricket Australia made it clear that this is the only window they have and we are looking to finalise 3 Test matches against them so we will have to find a mutually agreeable solution for a different timeframe for next year’s PSL rather than February.
PakPassion.net: What grievances did Mohammad Amir share with you during your meeting with him at his residence?
Wasim Khan: Mohammad Amir has already publicly stated what his complaints were in this regard and as our meeting was a private matter, I won’t divulge what was discussed between us and will leave it with the Cricket Board to deal with the issue. To clarify, I went to his house as an investment of my time to understand his grievances and see if there was a way forward. Waqar Younis and others have already said that the door is open for him to take back his retirement and make himself available again. I have a good relationship with Amir and speak with him regularly and there are no issues or any vendetta from the PCB side or point of view, and we will always remain open to quality players if they want to make themselves available for the country. After this meeting, Amir knows our stance and I’m aware of his stance, but for the good of the country it’s up to him if he wants to make himself available.
PakPassion.net: Do you think Mohammad Amir will take back his retirement and make himself available for his country once again?
Wasim Khan: That’s a tough question to answer for me. That’s really down to Amir as a choice because as we know he announced his retirement from all formats. If he wishes to come back, then the first thing he would need to do is to take back that retirement. He will need to make himself available, play and do whatever was required from a domestic cricket point of view and to put himself in the shop window and be available for selection. Then it’s clearly a case for the selectors to make a decision based on form and fitness and whether he merits a place in the side just as any Board would do. You want your very best players to be available and any sport or country would want that. We all know what he can bring to the table. He’s a big match player with a temperament for the big occasion but ultimately the ball is in his court. I suppose it’s down to personal choices as you cannot force people and we certainly won’t be doing that as a Board.
PakPassion.net: How disappointing was it that Younis Khan resigned from his position as the national team’s batting coach?
Wasim Khan: There is no doubt in my mind that Younis Khan is a legend of Pakistan cricket. During his playing days, he was the master at understanding what was required to deliver on the big stage consistently. He is someone who I have the utmost amount of respect for as an ex-player and our relationship reflects that. We were having conversations on a regular basis, but he had a number of concerns, regarding what he saw and what he was observing regarding Pakistan cricket and there was also a slight disagreement about the timeframes to join us on the tour of England as logistically it was a challenge for him and it didn’t work out. He wanted to part ways which we then agreed with, but the relationship remains intact. So much so that I could easily pick up the phone today and have a conversation with him. You have to respect people’s choices and the decisions that they make. Yes, it was disappointing for us because you want someone like Younis involved at that level, but I certainly wouldn’t write-off Younis Khan coming back and supporting and adding value in other areas of Pakistan cricket through coaching in future.
PakPassion.net: I guess there’s a ready-made replacement for Younis Khan, in Mohammad Yousuf?
Wasim Khan: We just have to look at what’s required moving forward for this specific role and we aren’t going to rush into any decisions yet. Mohammad Yousuf is doing an excellent job at the National High Performance Centre (NHPC) and the feedback we are getting about his work there is exceptional. But we just have to work out what the dynamics look like and come to a good decision in this regard.
PakPassion.net: Is Misbah-ul-Haq’s role as Head Coach under threat?
Wasim Khan: Look, ultimately this is a performance-related business. The coaches have been in place for 2 years now and people will argue and debate on whether we have made progress or not. As things stand, we will review the outcomes of the England and West Indies series once the West Indies tour is over and we will ask the coaches to present their cases on where they see Pakistan cricket at the moment and the contributions they are making, but it’s important not to keep jumping at knee-jerk reactions as soon as there are changes or we lose a match or a series. Pakistan fans remain loyal as long as we are fighting, and we are showing energy and spirit which is what they expect. If we take that approach more times than not, then we will be successful.
PakPassion.net: How disappointed were you with the outcome of the 3-match ODI series against England?
Wasim Khan: Needless to say, I was hugely disappointed and saddened by what I saw in the 3 ODIs against England and it was a shock in terms of the level of performances. The players have to take their share of responsibility. If the players are not up to it when representing their country, then questions that need to be asked are why that is, and why did we come badly second-best in the 3 matches. But knee-jerk reactions after losing a series are not what’s needed, and we have to take a step back and analyse the situation rationally. We are not defending the performances or saying that we aren’t assessing the performances of the players or coaches – that certainly isn’t the case. We will review this situation properly and thoroughly at the end of the tour of the West Indies.
PakPassion.net: What positives do you see from the Pakistan cricket team’s recent performances?
Wasim Khan: The positives for us have been the re-emergence of Hassan Ali who has come back fitter, stronger and a better player, whilst Mohammad Rizwan’s continuing consistency across all formats has been exceptional. We are also pleased with Shaheen Shah Afridi who has been performing consistently in all three formats whilst Babar Azam just goes on and on. He might go through a lean patch once in a while, but he always comes back stronger and better. Usman Qadir will get more opportunities to play, and I think he’s a very exciting prospect for us. We have Mohammad Hasnain who will only get better and he’s becoming a far more intelligent bowler now. I’m sure Haider Ali will come back in the future better and stronger as a human being and as a player so there’s much to be enthusiastic about and be positive about.
Yes, some of the results haven’t been great but we have beaten South Africa in a Test series at home and won the T20I series and then we went to South Africa and won the ODI and T20I series. So, there’s a number of things for us to celebrate, but we just have to tinker a bit more and become consistent in our approach and our attitude and I am sure that the good performances will follow.
PakPassion.net: Are you confident that you will get the go-ahead to host one of the ICC tournaments that the PCB has bid for?
Wasim Khan: We wouldn’t have applied to host ICC tournaments if we weren’t confident of being successful. One has to remember that the return of Test cricket back to Pakistan has been huge. Obviously there has been a trickle of white-ball cricket from 2015 into Pakistan and we got to the stage a couple of years ago where we said we were not paying any teams or players to come to Pakistan which had been taking place since 2015. There’s a huge amount of work which has gone on by the Government of Pakistan and the Regional Governments to create a safe environment for players, so much so, that players are now confident of playing in Pakistan. Obviously having PSL players involved from the beginning has helped and has broken down some of the negative perceptions of the country. When players come to Pakistan for the first time, they are surprised that really, we are just a normal country. Every country has its issues but by and large the Government has cleaned up the country from a terrorism point of view and we provide a safe environment for players to play their cricket with state level security.
We therefore felt that we were now in a strong position with the return of cricket full time to Pakistan. With South Africa already having toured, we’ve got New Zealand, England and Australia coming all in the space of 12 months, and it pleases me to say that these countries, apart from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies have all been incredible supporters of Pakistan cricket. There’s now a real understanding from other countries around the world that Pakistan is as safe as anywhere and there’s also a strong need now with other countries laying the pathway for them to come and tour here as well. We are delighted that from February this year we were looking ahead to 12 very exciting months for Pakistan cricket. The bids have gone in, and we’ll find out by the end of September if we have been successful. But certainly, we will do everything we can to try and bring at least one ICC tournament to Pakistan from the period of 2024 to 2031.