Pakistan had already been in the international cricket wilderness, at least as far as hosting matches on its own soil went, for about 4 years when Najam Sethi, the current PCB chairman took over in 2013. About half a decade later, and a year into his second term, the former journalist’s impact on turning Pakistan cricket’s administration around has been remarkable with international cricket (albeit in limited formats) returning to Pakistan and the rapid rise in popularity of the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
While it has always remained a contender on the field and has had great talent to power it, Pakistan cricket has often stumbled in administration, and had been in the doldrums post-2009 when the Karachi terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus on the morning of a test match, meant that teams had stopped visiting Pakistan to play cricket. It needed fresh thinking to both take the game forward and become the platform to push new talent forward in the international game.
Sethi, who initially took over during a chaotic time as caretaker chairman after the Supreme Court barred his predecessor in 2013, worked on both fronts tirelessly during his first proper go at the position in 2015. He laid the groundwork to bring back international cricket to the country and to create a new league - the PSL - which would become a springboard for fresh homegrown talent. The PSL made its debut in 2016 and immediately became a sensation despite the fact that the first tournament was held exclusively in the UAE. The breakthroughs came the next season when the final was played in Pakistan and in 2018, playoff games and the final were held there. Sethi outlined that the PCB was “seriously thinking about shifting the PSL fully to Pakistan. Karachi is ready, Multan is ready and we are preparing Rawalpindi and Peshawar.” A World XI played T20s against the Pakistan team and there were tours from Zimbabwe and from the West Indies team, baby steps that eventually are expected to lead to a full return of international cricket to the country.
In its post-2009 funk, which saw frequent chopping and changing at both the administration as well as player level, this scenario looked a pipe dream at best and pretty much impossible at worst. But Sethi tackled most of it head on, beginning with fundamental changes to the structure of the team itself including allowing autonomy to the national team coach and the selection committee rather than interfering in their areas of expertise as had been the wont of previous administrators. The result of that can be seen in the stellar showing of the Pakistan national team who won the Champions Trophy in 2017 and have been the No. 1 ranked T20 side in the world. Crucially, he spent a lot of his influence and energy on mediating and facilitating the process of Pakistan being able to host marquee cricket games again and negotiating better rights deals, which feeding off the national team’s success, became a virtuous cycle that has everyone optimistic about the future of the game in the country.
The key result area of the chairman of a cricket board is what health the game finds itself in under his jurisdiction and on that front, Sethi’s impact so far has been nothing short of pioneering and spectacular. He now focuses on the onerous task of getting bilateral series going again between India and Pakistan, one that comes with hurdles of all kinds, not least of which are political. He has also been advocating and negotiating for series with teams like Australia and England (the other two of the Big Three) and has often demonstrated determination in taking on the big wigs and the ICC if need be to do what serves the game in and for Pakistan best. There was very little to write from home about in Pakistan cricket when Sethi took the reigns. The current resurrection practically owes itself in entirety to him.