KARACHI: Times were so turbulent after Ramiz Raja was elected Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman that he feels he’s aged 30 years in his three months in the job.
Things have calmed down since and as Pakistan looks ahead to an exciting cricketing year, the former captain vowed he will leave no stone unturned in bringing about the game’s renaissance in the country.
He spoke about breaking barriers, that the recent highs were just a pit-stop and about dealing with the pressure of his own expectations.
“There is a still a lot of work to do,” Ramiz told a news conference here on Wednesday, a day after the meeting of the PCB Board of Governors.
“The upcoming season is the real test,” he added, with Australia, England and New Zealand all set to tour the country over the next year.
Those tours seemed shrouded in doubt in September, barely days after Ramiz took over as chairman, when New Zealand abandoned their tour of the country hours before the first of three One-day Internationals in Rawalpindi due to a perceived security risk. It also meant that the three-match Twenty20 series, that was to follow, was also scrapped.
England, who were due to send their men’s and women’s team in October — with the men’s team due to play two Twenty20s, then withdrew their teams due to concerns over their players’ mental health while travelling to Pakistan.
At that point in time, it seemed Australia’s scheduled tour in March next year would also not go ahead.
Ramiz needed to do some convincing. And he succeeded. After Australia assured it will not back out, England and New Zealand made peace with the PCB.
England agreed to play two extra matches during its tour in September as compensation for their cancelled tour while New Zealand has also agreed to play an additional series in April 2023, after its tour of the country in December next year.
“We have made the world realise about our presence at the International Cricket Council meetings,” Ramiz reflected, sitting alongside incoming PCB chief operating officer Faisal Hasnain.
That wasn’t the only challenge for Ramiz.
Ahead of his imminent election Pakistan’s head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis quit their roles, leaving the team without a coach months before the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE.
Wasim Khan, the PCB chief operating officer at that time, also tendered his resignation.
Despite that turmoil, the Pakistan team rose to the occasion at the T20 World Cup with a sensational run to the semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Australia.
They then swept Bangladesh in the T20s (3-0) and Tests (2-0) there and earlier this month romped to another T20 series sweep (3-0) against the West Indies here at the National Stadium before the ODI series was called off due to a number of Covid cases in the tourists’ camp. That series has been rescheduled for June next year.
Ramiz termed the West Indies T20s as an “eye-opener” for the PCB as despite it being the first series for Pakistan at home since their stunning World Cup performance, the National Stadium never reached full capacity.
Part of it was also due to the West Indies arriving with their second-string squad.
“Of course for fans, so many security checks are a hassle,” Ramiz admitted. “At the BoG meeting, fan engagement was a crucial part of the discussion and we’re looking at options to upgrade the viewing experience for fans.
“Our fans are of course exposed to seeing good teams and that is one reason why we’ve planned the series against Australia, England, and New Zealand at a time when their best players are all available.”
Faisal, who has previously worked at the ICC and Zimbabwe Cricket, said Pakistan needed to work to change its perception across the world.
“It has to change,” he remarked, drawing his experience from his time at the ICC. “Of course, the players who come here don’t want to be locked up in the hotels during their tours.”
Since taking over, Ramiz has been very vocal about improving the quality of pitches in the country and Faisal backed the PCB chairman on that.
“International teams want better pitches, not slow pitches with no bounce,” the PCB chief remarked.
The PCB has recently struck a collaboration deal with the Arif Habib Group to install drop-in pitches from Australia in Karachi in Lahore in a bid to simulate Australian conditions for its players.
Pakistan has never won a Test series in Australia and the 2022 T20 World Cup is also scheduled to be held Down Under.
“We’re striving to make cricket a strong product,” Ramiz stated. “The aim is to beat Australia in Australia.”
Ramiz admitted that while Pakistan had formed a winning combination in T20s, it remains a work in progress in Tests and ODIs.
“We are a mid-tier team in Tests and ODIs and the good thing about that is that gives us a chance to experiment,” Ramiz said, when asked about his views on the appointment of a full-time head coach for the team.
Former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq has been interim coach since the World Cup, where he was assisted by former Australian batter Matthew Hayden and former South African all-rounder Vernon Philander as batting and bowling consultants.
“I don’t have a set opinion on coaches,” Ramiz said, saying he had an “old school thought process” where leadership mattered most.
“Long-term coaching contracts get stuck sometimes and we’d rather hire specialists on a series-by-series basis,” he said. “Saqlain has created an environment in the team but I believe the best coaches should be at the grassroots and youth levels.”
Ramiz informed that the BoG also discussed about creating pathways through which the best players can come up to first-class level and then get the best coaching at the National High Performance Centre.
“We discussed on how we can have youngsters growing up to become Test cricketers and we will award contracts to the best 100 cricketers at youth levels who will train at the NHPC,” he said.
Ramiz has long spoken about improving Pakistan’s cricket economy, and creating properties including an U-19 Pakistan Super League and Women’s Pakistan Super League.
“We have to create properties of commercial value in order to reduce our dependency on ICC funding,” he stressed.
For now, it is the HBL Pakistan Super League which remains PCB’s biggest property. The seventh edition of the league begins next month and Ramiz said the PCB was going all out to ensure that it will not be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last season, the league had to be shifted from Pakistan to the UAE due to several breaches of its bio-secure bubble while its matches were being played in Karachi.
“We’ve learnt from the past and we will ensure that the whole of the PSL is held in the country,” he said.