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Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

I have been assured that the India-Pak series in December is on: Shaharyar Khan

The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman on resumption of cricketing ties, his equation with Jagmohan Dalmiya and the broadcast deal with Ten Sports

Fresh from witnessing Pakistan’s 328-run Test victory over Bangladesh in Dhaka, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shaharyar Khan made a stopover in Kolkata for a meeting with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya on Sunday. It was billed as a courtesy visit, but for the PCB chief, the trip held way more significance—the possibility of reviving bilateral cricketing ties between India and Pakistan. In an interview, Khan speaks about resumption of cricketing ties, his equation with Dalmiya and the broadcast deal with Ten Sports, considered an impediment to the series scheduled for later this year. Edited excerpts:

How optimistic are you about the resumption of bilateral cricketing ties between India and Pakistan?

You and Dalmiya go back a long way, especially since both of you were at the helm of your respective cricket boards in 2004, when India toured Pakistan. Do you think your personal chemistry will help take matters forward?

Dalmiya enjoys tremendous respect throughout the cricketing world. His tenure as last president was very significant for us, because we started the 2004 series and both he and I know the problems that we faced—security, political ups and downs, etc. At that time, as I hope this time too, we were able to separate politics from cricket. It was our motto that cricket and politics should be separated and cricket should continue despite the usual ups and downs in Pakistan-India relations. We ended up with the most successful series ever between Pakistan and India, also called the Friendship Series by people. We’ve been through it before and when I met Dalmiya in Kolkata on Sunday, he was very warm and he recalled the time when we worked closely.

How confident are you of a political clearance, given the sentiment that when it comes to India-Pakistan cricketing ties, every time you take a step forward, something happens and we’re back to square one?

Well, that is a political aspect that I feel should be separated from the cricketing aspect. There is Kashmir, there is Siachen, there is Sir Creek, there is trade, they are all issues between us. They are part of the political spectrum that we have to handle. I very much hope that those issues can be separated from people-to-people contacts at the sporting level—tennis matches, hockey matches, cricket matches. There is a security problem, not only for India but other countries coming to Pakistan. Let me tell you, and this is not known well in India, that the security situation in Pakistan is improving every day. Our armed forces have now rolled up their sleeves and are tackling the terrorist menace in Waziristan and elsewhere, and tackling it effectively. The result is that the security scenario in Pakistan has improved, but there is a problem. We know that India won’t come this year or next year, but maybe in the next two or three years, the situation will be such that the security problem can be overcome and the first step in this is that Zimbabwe is visiting us in a week’s time—the first full-member, Test-playing country to visit Pakistan. It is an important step forward.

You have also interacted with leaders and ministers of the Indian government. What was their response?

There are balanced, sensible people at the helm of affairs here, especially young people like Anurag Thakur. I hope they will appreciate what we’re trying to achieve. There’s a man who gets up in Parliament and makes a speech. That’s his democratic right, call it freedom of speech or what you like. But there’s the silent majority of people who want cricket to continue. Whenever we’ve played recently, it has been apolitical. There’s no longer the feeling of these contests between the two being “war minus the shooting".

Unlike last time, public opinion in India is slightly skewed against resumption of ties, especially after Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi’s bail in the 26/11 case...

We saw the speeches (by BJP MPs) made in Parliament. We are aware of this. The government has taken action in the form of registering cases against him these people, be it Lakhvi or Hafiz Saeed. Our judicial process takes its time as it does here. And we hope that eventually we will be able to close the chapter on allowing terrorists to operate in South Asia, and there will be a sentencing. But we have to respect the judiciary. The government wants to do it. The intention is there, but there are judicial hurdles to get over.

What about the state of cricket in Pakistan? Your team recently lost to Bangladesh in the one-dayers and struggled in the first Test...

You can say Pakistan cricket is at the crossroads, and we have entered a kind of trough in our ability to win matches, especially one-dayers. In Test matches, we are fine. We beat Australia last year in Tests, and that is something we are proud of. In Tests, we’ve been doing well; we just won the series in Bangladesh. What I am encouraged by is the fact that our young cricketers are very talented. I am also encouraged by the fact that recently, our batting has come up to expectations. We’ve put up big scores in Test matches. Over the years, batting has been a major weakness, and we are going to address the other weaknesses—fitness, fielding and internal programmes.

Fitness and fielding—they’ve been issues of concern for Pakistan over the years, haven’t they?

That’s something we can learn from India. The fact that Indian cricketers play a lot of Indian Premier League (IPL) matches and T20 cricket is a factor that helps them overcome fielding and fitness issues. All the Indian players are fit. Not just India. I have found that Bangladesh is very good too. We are lagging behind and I am going to set that right.

What are your hopes from the upcoming tour by Zimbabwe?

It’s a short tour. I am very confident that there will be no security lapse. Our boys are absolutely ready to receive the Zimbabwe team, to give them VVIP protection. Since we’ve been starved of cricket over the past six years, ever since the Sri Lanka episode of 2009, people are hungry for cricket in Pakistan. I think they will greatly appreciate Zimbabwe’s coming and there will be large crowds. I know there’s a great deal of interest already and that is good for Pakistan cricket: to play in front of your own people.

Over the past few years, there has been a lack of stability in Pakistan cricket...

There was no stability. There were changes with the chairmen—aaj ek, tomorrow there’s somebody else—that was not good. I am the first chairman to be elected, according to our new constitution. All previous chairmen were nominated. So, now there is stability, there is continuity, and I intend to maintain that. Every time we lose a match or a series, there are cries from our former cricketers, “Isko hatao", change the selection committee, change this, change that. This is not my way. I will do it in a calm manner. No pushing the panic button. Whatever changes we bring, will be done after a great deal of thought and consideration. It won’t be knee-jerk, I can assure you.

Financially, too, you don’t benefit by not playing at home...

Every time there is a “home" series, you make some money from the people who come to watch the matches. But broadcasting rights are the main source of funds. Even though we play in expensive places like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it’s better than not playing at all. So, we are hoping to play India in UAE, and we hope that we make a fair sum of money as a result of this “home" series.

How much does an India series benefit PCB? Isn’t it around 60-70% of your broadcast deal?

An India-Pakistan series is very lucrative for both countries. It is seen across the world, even more than the Ashes. So, in that sense, every time we play each other, there is a financial bonanza to be reaped. So it helps BCCI and PCB even if we play in the UAE, expensive though it is. We are exploring whether any countries might be ready to host an India-Pakistan series. I have spoken to the Bangladeshi Cricket Board (BCB) and suggested that they consider hosting an India-Pakistan series in Bangladesh.

Is the India-Pak series a part of your deal with Ten Sports?

We wanted to accommodate an alternative to Ten Sports (owned by Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group) because we knew that BCCI was not comfortable with the network. We were keen that Indian broadcasters enter the fray to bid for the series. It’s a wrong conclusion that we were trying to help Ten Sports get the rights. In fact the reverse is true. We wanted Star or Sony or any other Indian company to engage in the bidding process. We were committed to having a fair and transparent bidding process. We tried to encourage your broadcasters to come and bid. Eventually, one of them did, but the bid was so short of the bid made by Ten Sports that there was no option but to give it to the latter. It wasn’t that we favoured them, it was only that their bid was much higher. We were under constant pressure from our anti-corruption people to ensure that the bidding process was fair and transparent. So, I was not going to risk a criminal charge by being non-transparent, for doing favours to people.

But BCCI wouldn’t exactly want to enrich the Essel Group...

We have said all along that if you (BCCI) have a problem with Ten Sports or the Essel Group, just let us know in writing that because of this problem, we would not like X company to bid for the series, because of their association with anti-BCCI activities. The problem was that we were never told in writing, even though we asked for it. You write to us and we will do what is necessary, because legally, our position is then established that BCCI is not willing to accept a particular broadcaster. So that makes it easier for us, although we lose money on it.

Second, we are opposed to any alternative league. Although we do not feature in IPL, we are opposed to any other broadcaster arranging an alternative league as has been rumoured. We said, if you can’t write to us, let ICC write to us, let them examine if these people are actually trying to undermine IPL, and ICC. If ICC tell us that these people are not kosher, there it is, we can then take steps. But unless we get something in writing, we leave ourselves open to a lawsuit for breaking a contract. Our position is very transparent, very clear and if there’s something in writing, of course we’ll take action. But will there be something in writing?

I know that the head of Essel has been talking to the ICC. What the result will be, I don’t know. They have been saying to them (ICC) that they are not launching a rebel league and that if the ICC wants it in writing, they are happy to oblige.

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