May Issue 2014
Interview: Najam Sethi
Given the performance of Pakistan at last month’s World T20, do you think that there is a need for systemic changes in how we select our teams? And do we need to start thinking from scratch?
There are three problems in team selection. The first emanates from our sifarishi, non-professional culture. The chairman, directors, selectors, coaches and captains find it difficult to disregard non-merit considerations like favouritism, departmental, regional and zonal bias, etc. The second has to do with the crop of players thrown up by our cricket structure, which is corrupt and inefficient. Not all talented players get through, while others are thwarted by non-professional hurdles. The third is media and public pressure to push favourites and decry others. This puts the selectors, players and the captain under pressure to ditch young players without giving them a fair chance to prove their mettle with experience.
It seems that some players such as Shoaib Malik or Shahid Afridi’s approach is to rest on the laurels of a few good performances for a permanent place in the team. Do you agree with that assessment?
No youngster has the luxury to sit on short-term laurels. Afridi’s popularity enables him to get the benefit of the selectors’ doubt.
What is it about playing India that our team finds so difficult. Is it pressure from the media and the fans? Or is it that the current Indian team is simply better than ours in all facets of the game?
Naturally, India-Pakistan matches are tense for the players and the public alike. But the Indian Premier League (IPL) has enabled Indian players to shrug off tension better than Pakistan. Each team has its strengths and weaknesses.
There is a notion that cricket in Pakistan has become increasingly politicised and many decisions are taken along ethnic lines, especially when it comes to selection. How true is this notion and what steps, as PCB chairman, would you to take to rid the sport of such tendencies?
This is true enough to hurt our prospects. The only way to avoid it is to pose hard questions before the selectors have weighted averages of performance at home and abroad to prove or disprove anything, and put one’s foot down when the selection process is visibly biased. Of course, I have now begun to insist that the concerned official should resign when his decision turns out to be wrong after he is allowed to disregard the management’s well-meaning advice.
Many experts believe that the ban on international cricket in Pakistan is one of the reasons our players are suffering. How much of an impact has that actually had?
Home grounds (wickets and crowds) are oxygen for cricketers. But we have a lot of cricket away from home. So it’s not the only reason we are not at the top. Of course, we, the public, miss the excitement of watching top international players in action on home grounds and in the flesh.
Imran Khan has always said that Pakistan will not be able to produce quality cricketers unless and until we have a proper domestic cricket setup from which we can pick the international side. Are there any plans in place to revitalise domestic cricket?
Imran is absolutely right. I am going to implement his domestic cricket plan within the next six months. Powerful vested interests will oppose me. But I am determined to do it.
With the ICC World Cup only a year away, do you think that we can rebuild the team to a point where it will be able to realistically contend for the World Cup in such a short time frame?
We will certainly try to train our players for the challenge ahead. But there isn’t much scope for any radical overhaul in such a short period. The talent out there is raw and untrained. Until we change the domestic cricket structure, we will continue to tilt at windmills.
Who, among the current players, do you think will be part of the World Cup squad and who are the candidates being considered to captain the team in 2015?
Ah ha, that would be telling! That is the job of the selectors. We will have an excellent opportunity to test all the players, managers and coaches in the run-up to the World Cup when we play Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand in the space of the next six months.
This interview was originally published in Newsline’s May 2014 issue.
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.