Divergant Khan and Sethi and the rising political risk in Pakistan’s India chase

Osman Samiuddin details the growing political risks of the Pakistan Cricket Board's approach to chasing after India to confirm a December series in the UAE.

Najam Sethi of the Pakistan Cricket Board shown at a press conference in June 2013. Arif Ali / AFP
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The fallout from the Pakistan's pursuit of a series with India is growing in Pakistan, revealing a divergence at the very highest levels of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Shaharyar Khan, the board chairman, Najam Sethi, the head of the board’s executive committee and Subhan Ahmed, the chief operating officer, returned from an unsuccessful trip to India earlier this week.

They had gone to Mumbai at the invitation of the president of the Indian board Shashank Manohar, to discuss the series the two are supposed to play in the UAE in December.

That meeting never happened, after Shiv Sena activists arrived at BCCI headquarters to protest against the talks.

Sethi and Ahmed returned to Dubai the same day, while Shaharyar went to Delhi to try and meet other board officials, to no avail. But with nothing to show from their trip, they have returned to a cacophony of criticism in Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan cricket chief Sharharyar returns to changing sporting landscape

Ex-players and former board officials have not held back in attacking what they perceive to be an unseemly eagerness within the PCB to chase after this series.

The PCB has been after the BCCI for an answer to whether their series in the UAE in December will go ahead almost since the moment an MoU was agreed to between both boards last year. This was the latest of several trips Shaharyar has made over the last year, each one to growing barbs.

Under that pressure, Shaharyar and Sethi, the board’s two most senior officials, have offered contradictory accounts of what happened in the aftermath of the meeting’s cancellation in Mumbai.

On his return to Lahore on Wednesday, Shaharyar confirmed in a press conference that there had been no contact from the BCCI since the meeting was cancelled.

But in an interview on a widely watched Pakistani current affairs show on Thursday evening, Sethi contradicted that account, revealing that there had been constant communication with the BCCI after the meeting and suggesting that the possibility of a series was still alive.

“Shaharyar Khan thought Shashank Manohar would phone him,” Sethi said on Aaj Kamran Khan ke saath. “Manohar did not phone him [after the cancellation].

“I shouldn’t say it and Shaharyar Khan has also not revealed it but when we were in the hotel, Manohar was communicating with us through his wife [who was] sitting in the same room as Shaharyar Khan’s wife

“At every stage we knew what was happening. We were told they will stay in touch after the meeting was cancelled.”

Sethi also said he thought the BCCI had not made any statement out of fear of jeopardising Sunday’s ODI between India and South Africa in Mumbai.

“Maybe there is the threat that if you talk to the PCB, the Shiv Sena will disrupt the match.”

Sethi did strongly refute promptings by the anchor that Shaharyar was lying.

At the least, however, the contradictory account shows there to be divergent strategies at play between the two men in trying to secure an India series. At most they shed further light on a fluid power equation within the board, one which suggests Sethi in the ascendant and Shaharyar under increasing pressure and, perhaps, of waning influence.

That the two are not on the same page first became clear in July when Shaharyar said that prospects of the inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL) were looking “dicey”.

The PSL, however, is spearheaded by Sethi and immediately the board issued a retraction. Shaharyar, who has an avowed distaste of the Twenty20 format, expressed his satisfaction at the progress of the league.

On paper Sethi is also the head of the board’s executive committee, which can only make recommendations that require approval from the chairman.

But he is a sharp operator. Arguably, he enjoys closer ties than Shaharyar with the ruling political party in Pakistan, the Pakistan Muslim League – N. As an active journalist he also has a nuanced understanding of such situations.

It is no surprise, for instance, that Sethi appeared on the show that he did to defend the trip – Kamran Khan is one of Pakistan’s most recognisable and influential journalists.

Both are acutely aware of the pressures they are now under. A series with India – even chasing the possibility of one – is not just a series with India. It has ripples beyond the game itself. If those ripples now turn into something more ominous - especially if the series does not materialise - at this moment, it is likelier that Shaharyar pays the price. ​

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