Exclusive: We've been cornered for no fault of ours, says Ramiz Raja
Raja said the onus is now on Pakistan to become a strong cricket economy — one that nobody in world cricket can ignore
Ramiz Raja was one of Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ that roared back from the most hopeless position to win the 1992 World Cup.
No wonder Raja is showing the same spirit 29 years later despite his country facing its latest cricketing turmoil off the field.
Listen to this story and more on the 8@8 with David Light podcast
The newly-appointed chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has vowed to weather the storm after New Zealand and England controversially called off their tours, dealing a massive blow to a country that has taken so much effort to bring international cricket back to its soil after the 2009 Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan team.
During an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Raja said the onus is now on Pakistan to become a strong cricket economy — one that nobody in world cricket can ignore.
Q. When we congratulated you on your appointment as PCB chairman recently, you said: “It’s a tough pitch to bat on, but have a good mind to give it my mightiest best’. Now the pitch has got tougher after New Zealand and England pulled out of their Pakistan tours…
Yes, it’s only my seventh day at the PCB, but it already appears that I have been here for seven years. But, you know, I have weathered the storm. Having played the game I know how to be temperamentally strong. So yes, difficult beginning, but I will make sure we do well in this phase.
Q. The New Zealand series, followed by the England T20s, could have been a glorious moment for the game and fans in Pakistan. But what happened was unfortunate because Pakistan has taken so much effort to bring international cricket back to the country…
The point is England did not quote security at all if you look at the press statement. It says the players are tired, they have been living in a bubble, probably spooked by the New Zealand pull out. So my real frustration is that it’s kind of a western mentality we are dealing with. New Zealand changed their travel advisory after they pulled out of the tour. They do not have intelligence on the ground in Pakistan. And we don’t know whether it was a hoax because nothing was shared. It was a unilateral decision. Let’s be very clear, we are talking about security agencies that are the most battle-hardened in the world. And yet you don’t share your threat? And don’t share anything with them and just take off, based on what you received from your intelligence agencies in Auckland! And not realising what it can cost to Pakistan cricket. You know, we have taken thousands of baby steps to get here, relaunch cricket in Pakistan and so all the hard work, all the good things that we have done through PSL (Pakistan Super League), by inviting World XI, by inviting other countries, then suddenly you saw that knee-jerk reaction which is just not acceptable.
Q. But foreign players, including the big names from England, Australia and New Zealand, don’t seem to have a problem when it comes to playing the PSL in Pakistan…
The point is when they are together as a group (for a bilateral series in Pakistan), they have a different take. But when they come individually, even against the travel advisory, they come here. So the New Zealanders are here, the Brits are here, the Australians are here. So I mean even the (foreign) commentators come here. You know, we had Dominic Cork in the commentary team. So he was here and it doesn’t make sense at all.
Q. Do the western countries have a different yardstick when it comes to reacting to a security threat? New Zealand pulled out of the Pakistan tour an hour before the start of the first match in Rawalpindi. But despite a terror attack in London, every match at the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy had gone ahead in England. So the Pakistan cricket fraternity has a genuine reason to be angry …
You know that. Unless you are a big powerful cricket economy, that’s what I am asking my sponsors to be, to back us to the hilt now to make sure that we survive well, honourably as a cricket economy. And then to be the best team in the world, simple as that. So it will be difficult for teams to refuse to play against us. But the point is that they use us, and then they bin us, which is not just acceptable.
Q. Have you spoken to the players? They must be demoralised now…
I haven’t done that now. I think I will probably have a word on the 22nd (Wednesday).
Q. You have challenged the Pakistan team to take their frustrations out by playing their best cricket in the T20 World Cup. That was a rallying cry…
Yes, absolutely. But, you know, it’s a fine line. You don’t want to overstress and stress them, but also we have got to be on the same page, saying that this is what we want from you — your utmost best, so the world realises that the Pakistan team is angry. And the best way to vent is to take it out against the opposition. I mean that is the only response that we could have to such a situation because we have been cornered in a way. And we have been cornered for no fault of ours. You know nothing has happened and yet we are making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Q. You want Pakistan to become the best team, so no team can refuse to play them anywhere in the world. But what are the steps that need to be taken to make sure Pakistan have a solid domestic structure to produce a top-class international team — like the teams you were a part of in the 1980s and 1990s?
Sadly, you know, our club cricket has almost died because we were trying to get the first-class system in place for the last year and a half. I am reviving the club structure, there is already a school championship that is taking place in Punjab which is great actually. So it’s about making sure that your club level is in good shape because what we see at the top tier is a reflection of our first-class system. And unless we fix that, we can’t become one of the best teams in the world. You know on the day that I took office, there was a retainer increase of 100,000 rupees, so 200 players will now be 100,000 rupees richer. We are talking about introducing a first-class career for these players. So a top A category player will get 50 lakhs (5 million) rupees a year by just playing first-class cricket, which is a substantial amount. The players can concentrate on the game, not worry about the finances because there was a raging debate between provincial cricket and departmental cricket. I think there was uncertainty in the system. Players were feeling uneasy, so with this step, they have direction, they are financially secure and I am sure that will have a positive impact.
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