Musharraf in line of fire for Pak cricket chaos

Published: Sunday, October 22, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Karachi:Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is used to domestic opposition but he has recently faced a different type of criticism -- for harming his country's cricket fortunes.

After two months of crisis ending in a doping scandal, some experts say that Musharraf, the chief patron of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), should be stripped of his ability to personally appoint the chairman of the board.

The call is led by cricketer-turned-lawmaker Imran Khan, a persistent opponent of Musharraf who complains that the military ruler runs both the nation and the cricket board undemocratically.

"The country is run without a constitution and so is cricket. It is so unfortunate that the president of Pakistan appoints the head of cricket, who is not accountable," said Khan, a former star all-rounder.

Pakistan's latest controversy erupted last week when two of its premier fast bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, were sent home from the Champions League in India after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.

Less than two months earlier, Pakistan forfeited the Fourth Test against England at The Oval after Australian umpire Darrell Hair accused the team of ball tampering and captain Inzamam-ul-Haq kept them off the field.

Inzamam was subsequently cleared of tampering but was banned for four One-day Internationals for bringing the game into disrepute. It was the first forfeit in the 129-year history of Test cricket.

His replacement, Younis Khan, publicly refused to lead the team as a "dummy captain" and Mohammad Yousuf was appointed skipper.

But then PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan resigned and his replacement reappointed Younis as captain.

Last week, a prominent legal expert lodged a petition with the Supreme Court to challenge, among other things at the PCB, the appointment of Nasim Ashraf -- a doctor and magistrate -- as the new chairman.

Ashraf "doesn't know anything about cricket," said Farooq Hassan, a specialist in international law and former advisor to four Pakistani prime ministers including now exiled Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf -- who speaks of his love for cricket in his recent memoirs "In The Line Of Fire" -- was quoted as saying that he picked Ashraf because he was a close friend and had a "bold" personality.

The president has been PCB patron since he overthrew prime minister Nawaz Sharif seven years ago. Sharif had suspended the PCB's normal constitution in July 1999, and Musharraf has since appointed four different heads of the PCB.

Musharraf has even espoused "cricket diplomacy" with rival India -- although when invited to New Delhi in April 2005, he says in his memoirs, he had to curb his instinct to "jump out of my seat shouting and clapping" when star batsman Shahid Afridi hit the Indian bowlers around the park.

Cricket and politics are therefore inextricably linked in Pakistan -- but they also both arouse fiery passions among millions of people and cannot be ignored by the country's leadership.

Sirajul Islam Bukhari, secretary of the influential Karachi Cricket Association since 1983, called for the PCB to be set up with a council of members from 12 different cricket associations around the country and three board officials.

"The PCB was formed in 1948 but Field Marshal Ayub Khan (Pakistan's first military ruler from 1958-1969) started to nominate its head and since then this trend has continued," said Bukhari.

Despite the recent chaos, Pakistan surprisingly beat Sri Lanka by four wickets in their opening Champions Trophy match in the Indian city of Jaipur on Tuesday.

"It's amazing that we are still a top world team despite lacking a system. Think of it, if we had a good system we could be like Australia, world-beaters all the time," said fan Khurrum Ali.

"When the game is run without planning, crisis will be there. Our first class cricket system is faulty and the team just thrives on natural talent," added Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to its only World Cup win in 1992.


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