They said cricket will never return to Pakistan. They taunted us, they lobbied against us, but Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) rejuvenated cricket in Pakistan.
A domestic season, Pakistan Super League (PSL), foreign teams touring Pakistan, it was all a fantasy, which turned into a reality. A very strong and firm message went out from here to the world, we are safe and we want cricket at home.
Najam Aziz Sethi, Pakistan’s senior most journalist who is respected across-the-board, formerly served as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab. He founded the Pakistan Super League, which allows teams from Pakistani cities to compete for the title of best T20 squad.
Najam Sethi gave an exclusive interview to The Pakistan Daily‘s correspondent, Abdullah Zahid.
Abdullah Zahid: This year PSL marks six years. This was your brainchild. Initially, what hindrances did you have to overcome? How gurisome was it to carry this tournament forward?
Najam Sethi: There were many obstacles. (1) Previous administrations had tried for two consecutive years and failed. So there was reluctance in the Board of Governors and PCB Management to risk failure and loss of money.
(2) Chairman PCB Shahryar M Khan was a purest who was not enthusiastic about T20 cricket.
(3) UAE stadiums were already booked by Masters Tournament. So we had to go to Doha and negotiate with them. But they couldn’t fix their stadium in time. So we had to return to Dubai and renegotiate with Masters Tournament and UAE Cricket Board after threatening to oppose their application in ICC.
(4) There were only six sound bidders for five teams, so we could not meet our financial targets.
(5) There was only one bidder for Broadcast rights because Ten Sports and PTV joined hands to make one very low bid, compelling us to cancel the process and search for a formula to separate Broadcast from Production, do Production ourselves and sell commercial rights to Media Buying House.
(6) Top foreign players were not ready to join tournament without big fees. But our total players budget for a franchise with 15 players was less than what one top player earned in IPL. No one was ready to play in Pakistan because of security threats.
(7) We had to convince ICC to support return of international cricket to Pakistan by sending an International Eleven in 2016, that was a difficult task.
(8) We had to convince Pakistan government to ensure foolproof security when we risked the first Final in Lahore in 2017. At that time, neither players nor Franchises were ready to take the risk.
(9) In order to accomplish all these tasks, we set up a special team of 17 PCB employees in Lahore and three consultants in Hong Kong.
(10) We had to guard against match-fixing, the first challenge came in the first match in Dubai when two Pakistani players were caught.
Abdullah Zahid: The recent HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2021 anthem Groove Mera was heavily bashed on social media by netizens. Do you think there criticisms are justified? Was dropping Ali Zafar a mistake?
Najam Sethi: Groove Mera may be a hip score but it isn’t an Anthem. Ali Zafar or someone else is not the issue.
Abdullah Zahid: You brought foreign players to Pakistan, provided security to them, and coordinated with numerous departments including the security agencies. Was all this easy for you?
Najam Sethi: Security was the biggest problem. We had to seek out the services of the Federal Government (Rangers) and Police (Punjab Government). Additionally, the military intelligence agencies were constantly monitoring the situation. The ISPR was a great bridge. But we had sleepless nights.
Abdullah Zahid: Prime Minister Imran Khan initially criticised PSL and termed the foreign players Phateecher (shabby or worn out). Today he and his party take pride in arranging the matches. What would you say about this hypocrisy?
Najam Sethi: We were deeply hurt by a tweet from Imran Khan before the Lahore final in which he said it wasn’t safe for foreign players to come to Pakistan. After that Petersson and others gave us notice that they would not be available to play in Lahore if their team got into the final. Then he tweeted about “Raelukatars”, which upset Sammy and Co.
Abdullah Zahid: You served as PCB chairman till 2018. Were you invited as a guest in 2019-2020 matches? Do you feel sidelined? Does it bother you that everyone failed to acknowledge the herculean tasks you undertook to establish this franchise?
Najam Sethi: When the new government came in, I resigned so that it could appoint its own Chairman and Board. So naturally I was deeply hurt by the hostile attitude of the new PCB management subsequently. PCB should not be politicized. But I am gratified that the people of Pakistan and sports lovers continue to give me due credit for the great International Brand we built.
Abdullah Zahid: During the first edition of the league which team you personally liked? Has your allegiance changed over the years?
Najam Sethi: I had no favourites because each team was a potential winner. But, as a Lahori, I was secretly hoping that LQ would do well. Unfortunately, it disappointed us for four years. Now it is shining.
Najam Sethi has duly shown his metal and delivered. With blood and sweat, he brought the romance of this nation back, his vision strengthened the PCB and the public’s faith in our players. We must admit that Sethi is a saga and a multi-talented individual, with great organizational skills and a big following amongst intelligentsia. PCB and Pakistan were fortunate to have a man like him. One can’t even envisage how much obstacles he and PCB had faced, along with the risks they had to take.
Sethi proved the nay sayers and pessimists wrong and through his policies, execution and determination, made this possible. Despite forlorness, he parade optimism towards PSL and kept his eye on the target. He is also a quintessential insider who know how to get work done. Understanding the disparities, he created a synergy between various stakeholders and all units/depts/franchises. Knowing that credibility as host is paramount to attract bigger teams, he went to the world, guaranteed security, and brought international players home. Instead of citing it as a personal triumph, he always termed PSL as Pakistans victory.
A big thank you, NS, for all you have done for cricket and for Pakistan.