Handpicked by his captain and now Prime Minister Imran Khan to run Pakistan cricket about six months back, Ramiz Raja has had an eventful stint. A win against India in the T20 World Cup, New Zealand’s last- minute pull-out, the successful conduct of the PSL and the much-awaited Australia tour – there hasn’t been a dull moment for the PCB chairman. This week, Raja attempts his most ambitious pitch at the ICC board meeting – an annual four-nation T20 tournament involving Pakistan, India, Australia and England. With the BCCI not keen to support the PCB proposal, Raja faces a tough task but he isn’t worried. In his chat with Sandeep Dwivedi, the former Pakistan skipper talks about building cricket properties and being self-reliant.
What a great series ! Pakistan would have learned what it takes to beat the No 1 team in the world. No body though should question Pak’s capacity to fight. Opinions regarding team to have been bold while chasing over 500 at Khi & 350 plus on a turner on day 5 at Lhr are absurd!
— Ramiz Raja (@iramizraja) March 26, 2022
There are a lot of positives for Pakistan cricket since you took over. What is that one standout thing you relish the most?
I’m afraid it has to be Pakistan beating India in the (T20) World Cup. It had a ripple effect on the psyche of a fan. We saw good things happening after that moment, because the fans started to believe in Pakistan cricket. That was kind of a turning point.
You got Australia to Pakistan, the New Zealand tour was the unfortunate bit. The big question now is a series against India, which hinges on many factors. What’s the plan ahead?
Whenever I talk about India and Pakistan, it’s not always as the chairman of a Cricket Board. But it’s the cricketer that comes out. And as a cricketer, I’ll say that politics can be set aside because why should the fans not enjoy India-Pakistan games. The numbers and the figures are there for everyone to see why it is still the best competition in the world. And the idea of a Four-Nation series (PCB is to purpose an annual T20 series involving India, Pakistan, England and Australia at ICC this week) stems from that very fact. And somehow, we’ve got to make it happen. And if not now, when? Because there are three ex-cricketers representing the Board. (Sourav Ganguly – India, Raja – Pakistan and Martin Snedden – New Zealand).
And I’m not taking this forward as a PCB chairman, I’m taking this concept forward as an ICC Board member. It’s not Us versus Them, it’s Us versus Us. The last great concept was the T20 World Cup, which was held in 2007. So nothing new has come since that 2007 event, and here’s an opportunity. This thing happens in rugby, so we have a precedent.
I’m just hoping that we look at this concept as a cricketing concept and not as a political concept.
Whenever there is talk about India-Pakistan cricket, BCCI says their hands are tied and it is for the government to decide. So how can this concept work?
I expect the BCCI to take this concept back to the political alley and talk cricket with the bosses. As simple as that. Let’s not forget that the same kind of pressure is on me also. Not that the situation is terribly or terrifically different. I’m taking this liberty to promote a concept on my own without any government interference just for the sake of the game. If I can do that, I may get a shut-up call, I don’t know. The point is, I’m taking this forward in any case because I, as a cricketer, believe that this should happen.
Is your government fine with Pakistan travelling to India or India touring Pakistan or the two playing at a neutral venue?
Obviously, we’ll seek guidance, we’ll cross the bridge when the time comes. It will be just speculation right now.
Over the years, it has been seen that whenever India and Pakistan play at a neutral venue, there is no acrimony in the stands like as we see in, say European football. Do you think the administrators should be conveying to the governments?
When was the last time there was a brawl in the aisle? Never, never, it doesn’t happen. It’s just that they’ve just closed down a great avenue for people-to-people contact, which frustrates me.
A full House here tonight…. Thank you to all the fans who have turned up here in great numbers and millions watching at home.. respect ✊ and love ❤️ pic.twitter.com/YUf5ObDjdf
— Ramiz Raja (@iramizraja) February 18, 2022
What about IPL-PSL comparison and the one-upmanship. Do you think comments like PSL is better than IPL or vice-versa should be avoided?
I was misquoted from the start regarding IPL – about let’s see whether people go to play IPL or not. Point is we want to be competitive, and we want to churn out a product that is as huge as IPL. There’s nothing wrong in that because then we’ve got to work extremely hard to go from the draft to auction model. It’s beginning to happen, we’ve got a very strong, robust and energetic cricket economy. I know for a fact that we’ll have to work extremely hard to get it to the auction module, but there is no harm in trying. I’m not a fence-sitter. I’m trying my level best to get this thing off to an auction model come next year but it’s got nothing to do with competing with IPL. We have got to take pride in our own model and make it bigger.
How much is the Indian government’s stand a road block for Pakistan to host ICC events?
I’m not even thinking about that. Not really bothered at all because what has happened is that Pakistan cricket is watchable, there’s a lot of interest from domestic audiences and irrespective of who turns up, Pakistan cricket is going to grow. It has international and domestic eyeballs and, Inshallah, this is going to be the hottest, best-ever season. There’s a lot of self- confidence and self-belief in the fans, team and the product. From that point of view, I’m completely at ease.
Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment & failing a member of their Cricket fraternity when it needed it most. Survive we will inshallah. A wake up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.
— Ramiz Raja (@iramizraja) September 20, 2021
So, it doesn’t really bother you that if India is not allowed to travel to Pakistan, you might not be hosting the Asia Cup.
It doesn’t really. I mean, I’m not even thinking, it doesn’t really hit me at all.
Like in diplomacy, are there backdoor negotiations between India and Pakistan in cricket. Do you people pick up the phone and talk to each other informally?
We’ve spoken about it in the last ICC meeting and obviously, there is this political roadblock which needs to be cleared at both ends. But there’s a lot of cordiality and goodwill. That’s a good start actually.
So, can Sourav Ganguly and you have a heart-to-heart?
Yeah. Yeah, we talk about the game, individual talent, scope of India-Pakistan, what are the hurdles. Would we be able to get over them? Lots of general talk, nothing official.
Crazy day it has been! Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared!! Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC.
— Ramiz Raja (@iramizraja) September 17, 2021
Do you remember the days of the Asian block and how India-Pakistan joined hands to bring the World Cup to the subcontinent in 1987? Will those days be just memories for the fans of the subcontinent or do you think the two countries can actually come together and be this big force in world cricket?
I got to see a bit of a trailer at the last Asian Cricket Council (ACC) meeting I attended. My grouse was why didn’t ACC come out with a statement regarding the pullout of New Zealand from the Pakistan tour? Because this block was initiated, and came into existence, to look after the Asian countries. So if there’s no love lost. If there was no official statement regarding frustration shown by the ACC on New Zealand or England pulling out, what’s the purpose of ACC? That is exactly the question I asked at that meeting. What is the purpose of having an ACC? Is it just an event-based organisation or are we emotionally invested in each other’s agony and troubles?
So, Pakistan has to fight its own battles, you are on your own out there…
That is the reason why I want to promote Pakistan cricket properties, to be self-sufficient, not be dependent. It is a wonderful feeling when you’re on your own, when you’re trying to build properties and survive on your own.
It gives you a lot of confidence, you feel extremely proud of what you’re trying to achieve without anybody’s help. That is where we are. So, there’s the women’s PSL in February, Inshallah. There’s going to be an under-19 PSL. There’s a lot of traction and actually, we are self-sufficient.
We are seeing a new image of Pakistan cricket since you joined. PCB’s social media is much more active. During the T20 World Cup, there was this video post of your players informally meeting Australian cricketers explaining to them what Pakistan was all about? How important are these things in this day and age and what are your efforts to promote cricket as a soft power?
It’s so important because you’ve got to understand each other’s mentality. Unfortunately, the world is divided into tribes. One tribe doesn’t want to understand the other tribe and hence there are these Us versus Them scenarios. To clear this perception, it’s important to reach out to the other tribe and try to explain things. I think these individual leagues have gone a long way in determining that. But I also feel at the international level, country versus country, it is so important that we look after each other because at the end of the day, it’s a hard sport on the field but off the field, we can do so many good things.
I was so proud of how Pakistan conducted themselves on and off the field during the World Cup and later on here against Australia. The series was played in a great environment, great camaraderie was seen between the two teams.
The Australian journalists were roaming around without any security, the social media was buzzing. Social media is alive and kicking in Pakistan. Our digital team has done a fabulous job. The message has gone through and it has worked in promoting our image.
Do these things reflect on the PCB balance sheet? What are the T20 World Cup and PSL numbers?
Absolutely. Yes, record performance during PSL. The Australia tour was extremely fruitful as well. Also, we’re getting new companies to sign on Pathway Cricket, which is my dream project. So, 100 kids will be looked after by the best coaches in the world, sponsored by an organisation. These kids will be given a stipend every month, and then they’ll be given free education. So instead of one Babar Azam, what I’m trying to do is maybe create 3 or 4 Babar Azams. One reason why Pakistan cricket goes for a fair bit of dip is because of lack of support and I think that is where we lack consistency. Pathway Cricket is about creating a support system.
The old stories that would emerge from Pakistan about Imran Khan spotting somebody at the nets and drafting them straight in the team. So it will be more systematic …
Yeah, it will be much more methodical. We’ve under-13, 16, 19 tournaments and we will pick the best of the lot.
But hope too much regimentation will not kill the famous Pakistan innovation?
No, no. It can never be regimented because of the temperament. Our part of the world is very different from others. Being a cricketer, I know that you just cannot put a lid on their natural ability and it will be madness really to do that.
Is political unrest impacting the continuity of cricket administration in Pakistan?
I don’t know. I’m pretty moody that way, so we’ll cross the bridge when the time comes. But right now, I’m pretty comfortable because I’ve got great belief in Imran Khan.