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Spotlight: Nasim Ashraf
Malik could be a major stabilising factor
Nasim Ashraf has had a more incident-packed seven months than most chairmen do through their entire tenure. The doping scandal, religion, the change in captaincy, the World Cup and its aftermath through to what lies in the future: TelePk.Com chats to the Pakistan chairman about a tumultuous period in Pakistan's history.

You've had a tumultuous start. How has the experience been?
It's a very challenging job, but I love it. My sense of this is that these months have been very hectic and, to say the least, interesting. There were some fundamental things that needed to be done. One was to bring corporate governance to the board. We have a proper personnel policy, we have brought in a chief financial officer and there will be a budget for this year for the first time ever, approved by the board for next year's expenditure.

Broadly, what sort of changes are coming in?
The board has been completely restructured along corporate lines. We have brought in a modern, professional personnel policy. More importantly, there is now a proper structure for managing the game rather than a one-man show. It should not just be the chairman who does everything.

We are looking at a new way of dealing with the players. I have made it clear to them that there will now be performance-based contracts. These are being finalised and the central contracts will be ready by July 1. They will be far more lucrative financial incentives, at least three times greater than before. But it is based on performance. We have introduced, for the first time, a significant incentive for run-outs and other fielding-based incentives as well.

We are building a new team here and we want to bring in some fundamental changes, with regards to a fitness and training culture, with improving our infrastructure, by spending money on domestic grounds. We have rejuvenated the National Cricket Academy. We have programmes for U-16, U-18, we are running camps currently for fast bowlers and openers. As soon as this ends, we have a camp for future cricketers of Pakistan. The national team will be going around the country in a conditioning camp totally focused on physical fitness.

And a new coach...
We have had 13 serious applications which we are considering from within the country and outside. Some are fairly well-known. All of these are handed over to a search committee, who will go through this, shortlist, interview them and then make their recommendations to the ad-hoc committee. The ad-hoc committee retains the right to pick any of those 13 to interview. The final decision will be made by the ad-hoc committee.

We are exploring the position of fielding coach too, maybe from baseball. I went to the US and made some inquiries. Their season is in progress right now so everybody has contracts. But they promised to give me some names. We are also looking at some other countries where baseball is developed like Japan and Cuba. Depending on what type of national coach we get, we might also need a bowling coach.

We also want sports physicians and a trainer. This is really emphasising how serious we are about fitness. If anybody is not fit to play for Pakistan they are not fit to play elsewhere. Shoaib Akhtar had told me he was not fit to play in Abu Dhabi. He told me that he would be fit by September and that is a great motive for him. We didn't want him to get injured in the Afro-Asia tournament. But our policy is very clear: if you are not fit to play for Pakistan you cannot play anywhere else.

When you first came in, you made some comments about religion within the team. What prompted you to say that?
The team is religious like many people in the country. I just made that statement, and I stand by it, that there should be no pressure on anybody that you have to say your prayers or that your selection is in any way linked to this. I was assured by Inzamam at the time that there was no such thing happening. In terms of focus, when you are playing for your national side, you should only have cricket as your objective. Of course, you will pray and so on, but I don't think that necessarily is a major issue. There was an impression created that this team was praying all the time because they did it so publicly this perception was created.

Did you have any reason to believe or any evidence that there might have been pressure on players?
I don't have any evidence or any knowledge of anybody forcing anyone. Inzamam assured me that wasn't happening.

The selection of Shoaib Malik, ahead of someone like Mohammad Yousuf, further fuelled those who thought that the religious element within the team was being dampened?
We were looking for a captain who could lead Pakistan for the next 8-10 years. We needed fresh legs and a good clinical brain. We needed someone committed to fitness. Malik possesses all that. Hopefully, you will see, on balance, this will turn out to be a good decision. That was the only reason we picked Malik. He has put in place good practices. He talks to all of the team, he asks youngsters to give their input into match first and the seniors speak last. They support him fully.

He's an intelligent guy and only 25. If he keeps himself fit he can stay on for the next three World Cups and he could be a major stabilising factor for Pakistan. He is currently there till the end of the year which is the same policy we had in Inzamam's time where we would appoint a captain by calendar year.

We were looking for a captain who could lead Pakistan for the next 8-10 years. We needed fresh legs and a good clinical brain. We needed someone committed to fitness. Malik possesses all that.

What did you make of the report into the World Cup failure? The committee was made up of two board employees, so it was convenient to find a scapegoat and put aside problems within the board?
I am glad that they completed report and made it public. The reason the DCO (Salim Altaf) was part of it was because he was most familiar with what was happening and would be able to give perspective to that committee. The others - the chairman (Ijaz Butt) was independent and had nothing to do with the board and Salahuddin Ahmed, at that time, wasn't chief selector. The report is very independent. They have come up with recommendations, and we have incorporated many of them. Some like the paid selection committee we put in even before the report came out.

Inzamam was heavily blamed, which seems an overtly simplistic view, overlooking many other issues within the team and the board?
Inzamam is perhaps one of the greatest cricketers produced by Pakistan. As captain, he himself said he takes responsibility for the debacle and I think we should move on from that. There were lessons learnt, not just from the World Cup, but lessons that we have incorporated in our new policies. Take selection: the policy now is for home series, the selection committee invites players to the camp. Then the squad is selected in full consultation with the captain. But the final XI for a home Test will be done by selectors.

For away tours we have a mechanism in place also, in which captain, coach, vice-captain and the manager are involved. The final XI on tour will be that of the captain. If there is a disagreement, the captain will prevail. There were some lessons we learnt in the past.

The concept of selectors on tour has been dropped?
The selectors themselves have said they will be available but if you have a manager and a coach on tour then you don't need another selector, provided they have a real say in matters. It won't be a selection based on one individual anymore, whether it is captain, or coach.

The doping issue still hovers over Pakistan?
The board is totally committed to a zero-tolerance policy to doping. The PCB strictly followed its own doping policy during the process because we had to - otherwise we would've been legally liable. We could not do anything outside of that - this was out of competition testing so those rules applied. The first tribunal found them guilty and the second had to be appointed - it wasn't my wish. They had a right to appeal. That tribunal exonerated them on the basis that the first tribunal found them guilty on the basis of WADA rules not PCB ones. The ICC reviewed this and did not take steps, because legally they knew not much could be done. We accepted whatever decision the two gave.

WADA challenged this at the Court of Arbitration Sports (CAS) - basically to test jurisdiction. Our legal position is that they do not have jurisdiction. Therefore, picking Asif and Shoaib is within the board's rights. We are very clear that the matter is closed - CAS has no jurisdiction and WADA no right to appeal. While the PCB's anti-doping policy was not WADA-compliant, we have taken steps and handed the policy to our lawyers to bring it in alignment with WADA.

But you can see surely why so much scorn was poured on the decision to exonerate them?
When we took the first step of banning the players, everyone applauded the decision and said three cheers. Well, I'm very sorry but why will those same people not say three cheers if the appeal panel also went by the book? It is totally unfair. Only four countries had a doping policy and we put ours in place back in 2002.

WADA's code has only been implemented by the ICC recently so the policies were inconsistent but it was the ICC's responsibility to make sure all board policies were consistent.

In the second part of TelePk.Com's interview with Nasim Ashraf, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman discusses impending changes in the domestic structure and the case of the missing constitution and answers accusations against his management style.

Moving on to domestic cricket, regional associations will be financially strengthened under this board. Where does it leave departments in the scheme of things?
I have been in touch with regional associations constantly to find out what it is that they want. For example, they wanted local selectors in their associations - they weren't there in the past and with good reason too, because of nepotism and infighting. Now there is a three-member committee, a chairman and one member from the region and one from the board will join them as a monitor to make sure there is transparency. From the West Indian series last year, for all the gate money for the matches, half goes to region and half to the local association that held the match. Basically, all of it goes back.

We want to offer financial support for regions to pay players, say, 10,000 rupees a month as salary. In that system, and this is just thinking out loud, we will pay 10,000 rupees a month to every domestic cricketer picked by the regional selector, so essentially they will have their own central contracts with the region. We will pay them double the current match fee so an average first class cricketer makes something like Rs 200,000 annually. We have discussed it informally and the idea is well received. Associations have an immensely important role to play.

And where does this leave departments?
It doesn't mean we are doing away with departments. No decision has been made. We have to evolve a consensus by speaking to departments and asking them what they want. I want them to tell me. Many have disbanded their sports teams. Then we will meet regions. Basically, we want to make domestic cricket more competitive, to reduce the gap between domestic and international. Any decision will be based on what various stakeholders have to say.

What timeframe do you have in mind for these changes?
We want to wrap these ideas up and introduce them in the 2007-08 domestic season which starts in December. The challenge is that there is so much international cricket, our national players don't find time to play domestic cricket. You can put in any structure you want, but if the top cricketers do not play domestic, your standards will not improve. There will be no TV interest, therefore no financial resources. India faces a similar problem so how to tackle this in a way so we don't jeopardise our domestic game will be discussed at the ICC.

What is the latest with the constitution? Many promises were made, yet it remains elusive?
I am totally committed to the constitution. Within two weeks of taking office the revised version of the constitution was sent to the Patron's office, which then sent it to the Attorney General. It is still sitting there. He is obviously busy with more pressing matters of state but as soon as he vets it legally and it is approved by the Patron, that constitution will be implemented the next day. We already have a proper functioning board with a highly qualified ad-hoc committee. All decisions are approved and made by it but I am personally committed to the constitution.

If I was watching a game from the dressing room in South Africa, of which a fuss has been made, it is ridiculous. I was just watching and if the team didn't do well, I would only motivate them in broad terms

What will your position be once the constitution does come? Will you have to be re-elected?
No, right from the beginning of the board, the president or chairman is always appointed by the patron who is the president of Pakistan. That is the system we have and it should be kept that way, otherwise it becomes too political. If you look at some countries which have democratic boards, they have lots of difficulties in running them.

There have been accusations that you don't have enough time for cricket, particularly with your other official commitments (as chairman of the National Commission for Human Development)?
This is absolutely invalid. All chairmen globally are not full-time. Sharad Pawar is a federal minister. The Sri Lankan president is the owner of a hospital chain. David Morgan, Sir John Anderson, Ray Mali, all of them. I have plenty of time and I enjoy this.

It is said that you are too hands-on and interfere in team matters?
Absolutely not. My job is man management and motivation of the team. I never interfere in cricketing or selection matters. I do reinforce the absolute demand for fitness. I encourage them in terms of lifting morale and handling pressure situations and things like that. The feedback I get from the team is that they feel motivated by my presence. If I was watching a game from the dressing room in South Africa, of which a fuss has been made, it is ridiculous. I was just watching and if the team didn't do well, I would only motivate them in broad terms. My job is man management and support, to motivate the team and give them the best environment within which to operate.

Why did you resign after the World Cup?
Because I was the head of the organisation and we had had a poor performance at the World Cup. As head, I felt it was my moral responsibility to resign.

But are we then to believe that, having resigned once, you are still committed to the job?
As I told you, I only resigned because I thought it was my moral responsibility. I have a very clear plan for Pakistan cricket. I am committed to this and we are building a team for 2011. In terms of my personal obligation and commitment I am giving 100%. I am able to do that in a very balanced way with my commitments to the NCHD. If there was any compromise, I would accept that and resign. I am absolutely confident, feeling fresh and excited.

This is a fresh start after the World Cup. Between October and March we were in a holding pattern. We had been advised and had decided, and announced, that we would implement and introduce our plans after the World Cup.

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