Why was Ramiz Raja removed from Pakistan Cricket Board’s chairmanship?

Ramiz Raja was sacked as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Thursday (December 22). Raja’s sacking came after the team’s humiliating whitewash against England in the recently concluded test series held in Pakistan, though the reasons go far deeper than that.

According to The Dawn, Najam Sethi will now head a new 14-member committee that includes former Pakistan cricketers Shahid Afridi and Sana Mir for the next four months until PCB elections are held. Raja, who played over 250 games for Pakistan between 1984 and 1997, had taken over from Ehsan Mani in 2021.

The Indian Express takes a deeper look at the reasons for Ramiz Raja’s removal.

On the surface, a successful stint?

For many cricket fans outside Pakistan, Ramiz Raja’s short stint might seem fairly successful. Under his stewardship, Pakistan has hosted its biggest international tours of the past decade.

Since the attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 in Lahore, teams and players have been reluctant to play in Pakistan. Even as England and New Zealand decided to cancel their long-scheduled tours in 2021 due to “security concerns”, Ramiz Raja convinced the Australians to visit in 2022, their first time in the country since 1998. The English and the Kiwis followed suit.

Ramiz Raja also hiked salaries of 192 domestically contracted players as well as the pensions of former cricketers immediately after his appointment, earning him praise from some quarters.

Deeper issues with the first class system

However, Ramiz Raja’s ouster comes on the back of larger systemic issues in Pakistan cricket. According to many observers, the biggest factor behind Raja’s growing unpopularity and eventual removal was the much criticized 2019 constitution and the radical changes it made to Pakistan’s domestic cricket.

Prior to 2019, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan’s premier first class competition, contained 16 teams – eight regional teams and eight departmental teams (like Habib Bank Limited or Water and Power Development Authority). The departmental teams would not only provide more opportunities to budding cricketers but also guarantee their financial security.

In 2019, as a part of then prime minister Imran Khan‘s vision to improve Pakistan’s domestic competition, all departmental teams were removed and the domestic competition was reduced to only six teams. It was thought that having fewer teams would result in a higher level of competition and consequently, develop better cricketers while generating more money.

However, this move put hundreds of cricketers as well as other staff (pitch curators, coaches) in a precarious position, with many moving to other professions to sustain themselves. There was a huge outcry against this move, and though it preceded Raja himself. Crucially, due to a variety of factors, with the pandemic central among them, the new format with six teams did not bring the gains that were expected.

Charges of sycophancy, centralisation

While the six-team format did not find many supporters any way, allegations of sycophancy and over-centralisation further marred the system.

According to an article by ESPNCricinfo in 2019, “The intention is to turn provinces into provincial cricket associations. The association will be run by a management committee, with each having its own Chief Executive Officer. All six associations will become legal entities responsible for running all cricket in that province right from the grassroots level, including Under 13, Under 16, Under 19 and club/school cricket.”

However, in reality, PCB continued to exert significant control over these new provincial associations, both due to exigencies of funding and through the alleged sycophantic appointment of officials.

One of the foremost demands from Pakistani cricket fans has been to democratize the functioning of all of Pakistan’s cricket institutions.

A motor mouth, alienating people

Ramiz Raja’s motor mouth might have gotten him into daily headlines but it did not win him many fans either at home or abroad. While his comments about him on the BCCI and Indian cricket drew the ire of Indian fans, even Pakistanis got tired of Raja’s talk. For many, he needlessly courted controversy and debased the office of the PCB chairman, engaging with reporters or fans both on and off social media.

Furthermore, prior to Ramiz Raja’s appointment at the PCB, he had been an outspoken critic of how Pakistani cricket was being governed, promising radical improvements if given the opportunity. When he failed to deliver on many of his own promises from him, his previous bravado from him came back to bite him.

Raja also alienated multiple people in Pakistan’s cricket ecosystem, from organizations running earlier while departmental teams to team owners in the Pakistan Super League (PSL). He also shared a frosty relationship with the media due to his combative nature.

A larger political game

Ever since Imran Khan’s departure as prime minister, Ramiz Raja’s exit seemed imminent. Pakistan’s prime minister is an ex-officio patron of the PCB and has a massive influence on Pakistan cricket. Historically, regime changes in the country have always brought major changes to the cricket board. Ramiz Raja and his predecessor, Ehsan Mani were Imran Khan appointees. Radical changes that took place during the terms of these two chairmen reflected Imran Khan’s vision for Pakistani cricket.

With Imran Khan’s ouster, this vision has also changed. Almost immediately after coming to power, new prime minister Shehbaz Sharif lifted the ban on departmental sports across the country to “revive competition” – the same reason cited by Imran Khan to do away with these teams in the first place.

What next for Pakistan cricket?

Interim chairman Najam Sethi comes in with support from the Shehbaz Sharif regime. He was previously chairman and CEO of the PCB between 2013 and 2018, resigning after Imran Khan took over the country’s reigns.

Sethi’s previous tenure is remembered favorably by most, especially for his contributions to PSL’s establishment in 2016. Under Sethi, PSL became the second largest source of funds for the PCB after ICC revenue sharing. Today, it is regarded as one of the most competitive T20 leagues in the world, arguably second only to the IPL.

Najam Sethi leads a new 14-member committee in charge of reviving the constitution of 2014, which would undo all of the changes brought in 2019. Chief-selector Mohammed Wasim has also been sacked, with former stalwart Shahid Afridi taking charge of the national team selection for the time being. Najam Sethi has also hinted at a coaching change in the near future.

Currently, the PCB is staring at multiple challenges, from India’s refusal to play the Asia Cup on its soil to growing criticism of its tepid pitches and lackluster cricket. Only time will tell if Najam Sethi can successfully shepherd Pakistani cricket to a better position. Or if indeed he will get the time to do so.

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