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Comment: Dear Mr PM-to-be, please let cricket be

The promised tabdeeli of the #NayaPakistan is almost upon us. Word is that once he officially assumes office, Imran Khan would wield the axe on all that was ‘ragged and rickety’ in the old country.

But would it really be wise to chop and change just for the sake of it? Surely there must be some things worth retaining from the #PuranaPakistan. Like the current cricket setup.

Although there is nothing concrete so far, speculation — primarily on social media — is rife that Khan, as the new PM, would relieve PCB Chairman Najam Sethi of his duties. And while mere twitter chatter should never be enough fodder to warrant a story like this, clamour for Sethi’s head and the growing list of his mooted successors have crescendoed to a point where the matter has started getting column inches.

Roznama Express sports editor Saleem Khaliq, in his hyperlinked piece above, says that at this point, rumours are all there is. Whichever former cricketer, he writes, is meeting Khan these days to congratulate him on his upset poll win is being linked with Sethi’s job.

And even though a PCB source tells Dawn that it’s business as usual and there is no panic yet, it cannot be discounted that all this speculation could be a precursor of things to come. If that happens of which there are ominous signs, it would be an unfortunate and undeserved end to a remarkable era of Pakistan cricket. The needless casualty in the Khan-Sethi political beef (read paintees punctures) would be the national game (no hockey corrections please).

But without letting this piece descend to a PR favour for anyone, let’s conduct an objective perusal of the team and the game’s progression since Sethi was first handed the reigns on June 23, 2013.

Exactly a week before Sethi took over, the Pakistan team had exited the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy after losing all three of their matches — the last one being a chastening eight-wicket loss to India. The team then was winless, spineless and in a state of free fall. The team’s highest score in those trio of defeats was 170.

Just so you know, it was not a T20 tournament.

Pakistan had been on a disastrous Champions Trophy campaign days prior to Sethi’s appointment in 2013.

Fast forward four years, and the team that had been humiliated at the hands of India, was now embarrassing India in the final. Of course, the PCB chairman did not score a century in the final — the bulk of credit should go to the talented pool of players and the coach — but then this land has always had talent on the ground. Surely something must have changed elsewhere. Think upstairs.

Still, it makes sense denying credit to the administration for a feat that at least superficially was purely the doing of the playing staff. But even the staunchest of Sethi’s critics cannot deny him his share in the success of his brainchild: the Pakistan Super League.

Multiple chairmen before him had considered launching a T20 league but none could figure out a workable feasibility plan. Sethi not only launched the league but in the three years since, the PSL has gone from strength to strength and is now perhaps the event that sports fans in Pakistan look forward the most to. In fact, calendar years now begin with feverish anticipation of the league.

Those who understand sports would know that franchised leagues’ do not simply succeed on the basis of balls bowled or sixes hit. The actual play is just the icing on the cake. The cake itself is the real pride.

And now the last bit of convincing.

Imagine being on a tour of a foreign country and getting attacked by terrorists. Would you ever return to that land even with a thousands guards and ten thousand assurances? You may or you may not, but Sri Lanka certainly did. It took a decade but Sethi eventually convinced the islanders.

The West Indies and a World XI side too have set foot again on these shores, not to mention all the foreign players that now routinely visit Pakistan for PSL duty. Is Sethi’s diplomacy that helped shed Pakistan its image of cricketing pariah not deserving of any credit?

Point being that if you hark back to the pre-Sethi cricket landscape, you’d recall the national team being a shadow of its present self. Where there are Champions Trophies now, there were meek exits; where there is positivity now, there was gloom and despair; and where there is PSL now, there was Pakistan super nothing.

Four year after the team’s winless campaign of 2013, Pakistan lifted the Champions Trophy last year.

Khan, once he officially becomes the PM, would have a plethora of things to fix, or change. A few years ago in an interview he had vowed how he would like to replace the PCB’s ad-hoc system for a more democratic one. In theory, that is how all governing bodies should elect its leaders. But right now, there is a set system in place that is functioning as smoothly as it ever has. We’re winning, and producing more talent than we need and generating money that is contributing millions in taxes to the Public Exchequer.

Why unsettle a settle system? There may have been plenty wrong with the #PuranaPakistan but even a broken clock is right twice a day. The cricket setup right now is right. It needs no immediate fixing.

Khan, in his victory speech, had alluded that his governance style would be of inclusivity and reconciliation rather than retaliation or agitation.

If that is indeed the case, dear Mr PM-to be. Please let cricket be.

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