THE GROWING WORLD OF SPORTS IN PAKISTAN

Exclusive with Shaharyar Khan

By SHAHID HASHMI
Dec 19 - 25, 2005

Pakistan cricket is in the safe hands, every honest cricket fan would admit. The former secretary foreign office, a career diplomat and a former high commissioner, Shaharyar Khan has worked with discipline and adroitness to carry forward Pakistan's image in the cricket world. The once "no go" zone of international cricket, has taken a step forward by hosting arch rivals India and then the first non-Asian country in a remarkable manner. It was England who was skeptical over touring Pakistan. Security fears in the wake of 9-11 and its aftermath had prompted the foreign teams to stay away from playing in Pakistan and as a result, Pakistan had to play two of their home series on offshore venues of Sharjah and, one in Sri Lanka. The view has changed gradually.

When Shaharyar Khan, a former Pakistan team manager to India in 1999 and for World Cup in 2003, was handed the reins of Pakistan Cricket Board many termed the decision as "surprising." The common viewpoint was that since Khan Sahib was not a technocrat he would not be able to handle the intricacies the handling of the game need. But Khan has proved everyone wrong. With his experience and dexterity, he not only handled the affairs, team and politics well; he successfully resumed a lot of events, which were not part of Pakistan's domestic cricket for years. Holding school cricket, college and University cricket were a few of them.

Pakistan also has a sponsor for it domestic cricket - ABN Amro Bank, which are a new thing and the first sponsor since we lost Pakistan Tobacco Company in 1998. Although the process of re-writing the constitution of the Board is slow yet he is right there and would implement the same in the very near future. The development of the game and that of the team are also well handled by Mr. Khan. Although the team lost to India 2-1 in Tests and 3-2 in one-dayers, yet everyone remembered the Indo-Pak series, the first after a bilateral ban was lifted after a gap of four years. It not only resumed Pakistan-India cricket relations but it also proved a windfall for Pakistan, putting a record 23 million US dollars in their coffers.

Q: HOW HAS THE ENGLAND TOUR OF PAKISTAN HAS IMPROVED OUR COUNTRY'S IMAGE?

SHAHARYAR: A lot. It was a very important tour - both in the perspective of a foreign team, other than from an Asian country, and in the aftermath of the earthquake. We had done our homework properly and made extra-ordinary arrangements for the team - both on and off the field. If you remember that England had asked for extra security measures so we did that and I am happy that until now the tour is very well managed and England is happy. It augurs well for Pakistan and now we are going to host India in the next few months. That too is a very important series and we think that Pakistan's image as a cricket country has been raised both on and off the field. The team did well and has taken huge strides in their march towards becoming a top team."

Q: WITHOUT SOUNDING FLATTERY, YOU HAVE DONE A LOT OF GOOD THINGS FOR THE GAME IN PAKISTAN. NOW WHAT ARE YOU OTHER AIMS AS CRICKET CHIEF?

SHAHARYAR: "Cricket nowadays has loads of money and it is essential that the affairs of the administration are transparent and clean. Officials have been under pressure for selecting favorite players. People have been trying to influence their decisions and the cricket administration has also been suffering from grouping. This is not acceptable. We need a clean administration to make it efficient as well. I won't allow anyone to pressurize other cricket officials or me. If I won't take any pressure, the same thing will go down to the bottom. The main target still is to clean the game and develop to an extent where we get a good influx of players and the facilities of the game are raised."

Q: WHEN YOU TOOK CHARGE, YOU PROMISED TO RAISE IT THROUGH GRASS ROOTS LEVEL, HOW FAR HAVE YOU DONE THAT?

SHAHARYAR: "The game needs investment on the lowest level as people don't have grounds or playing facilities. This is essential to maintain the influx of good cricketers. I toured far-flung areas and am very happy to note the willingness to play cricket and at the PCB we are trying our level best to raise playing facilities in every nook and corner of the country. I visited interior Sindh; I went to Balochistan, NWFP and in Azad Kashmir (before the quake) and am very happy that willingness is there to play cricket. We have chalked out plans and through our regional district officers we are taking every possible effort to raise the infrastructure of the game. Once the game is spread to every corner, we would get more and more players and the overall standard of our cricket will also improve I have carried out a round of consultations with leading cricketers, administrators and commentators after taking over. I have learnt from their experience before outlining the board's policies.

Q: MERIT HAD BEEN NEGLECTED IN ALL AREAS OF THE GAME IN THE PAST. YOU SAID THAT YOU WOULD NOT ALLOW ANY THING OTHER THAN MERIT, HOW FAR HAS THIS BEEN MANAGED?

SHAHARYAR: "I shall insist on transparency, financial probity and public accountability of the board's action and finance. Merit alone will be the criterion of the board's policies relating to selection, appointments and other related matters. Justice will not only be done but will be see to be done. I have tried my best to insist on upholding the noble and sporting traditions of cricket and will expect the highest standards of behavior and sportsmanship, especially from players who are given the honour of wearing the national colours. My special focus will be, and has been, to tap the vast enthusiasm for the game with the underprivileged by providing them with grounds, equipment, coaching facilities etc that are not currently available to them. A strong base of the pyramid will ensure sustained cricketing excellence at the top. I have also focused on reviving our internal first-class program so that public support for our local teams strengthens the competitive fabric of our players."