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Mani outlines challenges ahead for Pakistan cricket

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LAHORE: Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani said on Wednesday that the PCB has a great ambition of inviting foreign cricketers following the revamp of the domestic cricket structure last year but admitted it will have to elevate its standards in order to achieve this objective.

He said this in a wide-ranging discussion with cricket authors and historians Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in a podcast, available on the PCB website here on Wednesday.

“One of the things we are going to do with our first-class cricket is to encourage one or two overseas players to come and play,” said Mani who has also been a former ICC president and is the present chairman of ICC’s most influential committee, the Finance and Commercial Affairs Committee.

“It is great for our players to be playing with the international players and that’s not going to happen overnight. It is in the next two, three years and we’re working to take our first-class cricket to a complete different level and have it so competitive and so attractive for overseas players to want to play in,” Mani said.

‘Revamp of domestic cricket will have long-term benefits’

In the interview, Mani gave an account of PCB’s efforts to overcome politics and to resume bilateral cricket relations with India. He shared his hopes for more international visitors to Pakistan after Covid-19 in the greatly improved security situation and following the highly successful tours from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Kumar Sangakkara-led MCC and the HBL Pakistan Super League 2020.

While reflecting on how he stumbled into cricket administration since his achievements as a negotiator for the ICC.

Reflecting to how he took up the job of the 34th Pakistan’s cricket chief on September 4, 2018, Mani said that upon studying the country’s domestic cricket structure, he realised how the last system blocked entry points for up and coming cricketers.

He asserted the new domestic structure put in place is going to create more jobs for the former cricketers, while providing a clear pathway for the up and coming cricketers.

“I realised what was happening, that the players who played for the departments [in first-class cricket] went and played grade-II cricket for the regions. So, they were blocking the pathway for youngsters who come through grade-II cricket into the first-class game.

“The system was totally whopped. When I looked at the averages and first innings scores of our teams in the first-class matches, the first innings scores were one of the lowest in the world, lower than Zimbabwe. So, I knew something was not right. I concluded that we needed to have quality and quantity “Without cutting back on the opportunities for the youngsters to play cricket and working their way up if they are good enough. So what we have done is we have set-up six Cricket Associations with hundred cities playing cricket between them. So, 16 to 17 cities per cricket association,” said Mani while elaborating on the new domestic cricket structure.

“Under them we will have somewhere around three and a half or four thousand cricket clubs. We produce cricketers in Pakistan in spite of a system not because of the system so we have got to make the system where we capture the best and give every youngster an opportunity to work his way up through a proper structured pathway,” said Mani who was instrumental in commercialising international cricket in 2000 by leading the ICC to sign its first-ever commercial deal worth $550m that was followed by a second deal in 2006 worth over $1.1bn.

“There are lot of talk about people losing jobs in Pakistan. I have worked out that if we have 100 Cricket Associations with a hundred cities playing cricket with three thousands clubs, we are going to create more jobs for the former players. It is going to take time and it is not going to happen overnight.

One of the issues that has surrounded every PCB chairman over the past decade has been the resumption of cricket with India and naturally Mani was questioned on it. While he made it clear that his board was ready to engage with the Board of Control for Cricket in India for the resumption of bilateral series between the two countries, Mani said that the PCB would not run after their Indian counterparts.

“I have taken the view, and I have let it be known to the BCCI, that we are always there to play, but we are not going to be running after them. It is their call, when they are ready to play, we will be willing to play.”

The PCB has been lauded internationally for the part it has played in the resumption of international cricket by sending its mens team to England after the COVID-19 pandemic put the game on halt.

Reflecting on the decision, Mani said: “It is important for world cricket to come together and support each other sending a Pakistan team is what the spirit of cricket is all about.”

The Test and T20I series will be held behind the closed doors due to the stringent COVID-19 measures. Mani said playing in empty stadiums was something that will not take much time for the Pakistan side to get accustomed to.

“We have had to go through this in the Middle East when we played on neutral venues. We have played Test matches with less than 300 people in the ground. It was after cricket came back to Pakistan that it was an enormous experience [for the players] but they have had that experience of playing in empty stadiums for 10 years,” Mani added.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2020

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