The victory speech of the prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan was lauded by multiple of quarters for a variety of reasons. Among these was his reiteration that he won’t pursue a policy of political victimisation and that he would let bygones be precisely that.
Khan’s sceptics, of which there are of course many, argue that his sincerity needs to be gauged via his actions, not words. Intriguingly, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief would have an early opportunity to walk the talk, by following through on his words vis-à-vis one of his most noteworthy critics.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman and renowned journalist Najam Sethi has been at loggerheads with Khan, since the 2013 elections. Khan accuses Sethi – then caretaker chief minister of Punjab – of tampering with elections and helping the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) win. Then ruling party, in turn, rewarded Sethi with the coveted PCB chairman’s position, alleges Khan.
It has been a norm in Pakistan for the PCB chairman to be appointed and removed along with political changes. That is one of the many wrongs that Khan could wrong by ensuring that Sethi continues as the PCB chairman.
Politics aside, the single biggest reason for Khan to make this decision, is the current state of Pakistan cricket.
On the field, over the past two years, Pakistan have been the number one Test side, the number one T20 side – which they currently are – and have won the ODI Champions Trophy. In that regard, these past few years – with Test success followed by those in limited overs cricket – have been one of the most successful periods in Pakistan cricket history.
While a large part of the Test accolades can be credited to Misbah-ul-Haq’s leadership and ethos, as Pakistan played its cricket exiled in the UAE, the limited-overs teams have only embraced success with the advent of the Pakistan Super League.
Giving Pakistan cricket the likes of Hasan Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, and many others, Sethi’s work on PSL alone is worth ending any argument against him, should the debate be held in an arena of political neutrality.
Off the field, the past three years have seen the return of international cricket to Pakistan. While the Zimbabwe tour had taken place before the PSL, it is the tournament final in 2017 – which Khan at the time severely criticised – being played in Lahore, which paved the way for tours of the ICC World XI, Sri Lanka and West Indies, over the next 12 months.
PSL, hence, has been the single biggest factor in bringing Pakistan success on the field and off it. And Sethi has been the single biggest factor in making PSL possible.
Khan has argued that Sethi isn’t qualified to be the PCB chairman and that only a former cricketer should hold that post. The theoretical debate over that assertion notwithstanding, Sethi has more than proved his credentials by bringing Pakistan cricket significantly forward.
Therefore, keeping Sethi in charge would not only count for loads of brownie points as Khan living up to his words, the decision is also crucial to ensure progress in the sport. Considering that Khan owes most of his celebrated status to the sport, how cricket fares under his regime was always going to be scrutinised. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it and all that…
And hence, in persisting with the current regime, Khan can kill several birds with one stone as it looks to win over those skeptical about the upcoming PTI-led government.