Kolkata: Ehsan Mani, chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), is arguably one of the most respected active cricket administrators in the game. Now 75, the former president of International Cricket Council (ICC) is the perfect example of someone being there and done that.
A chartered accountant by profession, Mani had served the world governing body of the game in various key capacities - right from the Chairman’s Advisory Committee set up to advise Lord Cowdrey and Sir Clyde Walcott during their tenures. As someone who worked closely with the late Jagmohan Dalmiya, the strongman of Indian cricket and his predecessor in the ICC top job, the duo were instrumental in hosting the second ICC World Cup in 1996 in the Indian sub-continent which opened up the floodgates for sponsors in the showpiece and was a roaring financial success.
When the ICC was looking for a helmsman after the last chairman Shashank Manohar stepped down in June last year after two terms, Mani’s name was doing the rounds again as someone who would be the perfect consensual candidate who would be acceptable to all the members. An oppointee of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Mani scotched the rumours himself and said it was imperative that he served the PCB till the end of his term.
A staunch opponent of the so-called ‘Big Three’ (India, England and Australia) influencing the policy decisions in the ICC, Mani never shied away from speaking his mind about it and also felt that the new chairman should be someone from outside these three countries. His prayers were eventually answered when Greg Barclay, the head of New Zealand Cricket, was eventually elected unopposed as the independent chairman in November last year.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News over phone, Mani spoke candidly about the journey of Pakistan Super League (PSL) so far, the contentious issue of India’s delay in assuring travel visas for the T20 World Cup later this year to Pakistan team, support staff, fans to the Asia Cup. Following are the excerpts:
Gulf News: The sixth edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) has got underway earlier this week. How has the journey been so far?
Ehsan Mani: Obviously, it’s been a very, very good confidence building exercise in terms of convincing the overseas players that Pakistan was completely safe. We always felt that it was a safe country, but the decision to gradually shift the tournament to Pakistan was the final step.
There was a hiccup when in 2019 when IMG pulled out of telecasting and it created some concern but having got over that, we have moved on. Last year, we had a tremendous start but then Covid came but we could finally finish the tournament. It’s the same this year, we now have a 50% occupancy at the ground and by the end, the numbers could be higher.
This year, over 100 overseas players had registered for the auction, and 35-40 players were chosen.
The perception is that thanks to the PSL, there is now a bigger talent bank of players to choose the national teams from?
Yes, it has produced some cricketers who were not known nationally who have performed well. Last year, we introduced a new domestic structure - we had only six first class teams - and our international players are playing there. it’s now very competitive and going forward, we will produce more players from the structure.
Six years down the line, have the franchises developed a revenue model and how far are they from breaking even?
As you have seen in IPL (Indian Premier League), they didn’t make too much money in the initial years. Last year, two of our franchises broke even and this year, two more will do. By next year, we expect that all six teams should start breaking even.
Only a few days back, you reiterated the demand for assurance of travel visas from India for the T20 World Cup. What is the update on that front?
Well, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) was supposed to come up with a clear confirmation by December 31. Let me make it very clear that we have got nothing against the event being held in India, but we have to be absolutely sure that our players, support staff, fans and the media should get the necessary visas. The decision was postponed to January, but Sourav Ganguly (the BCCI president) was not well and they asked for more time, but now January has also passed.
I am now facing queries from our stakeholders as well the media and I have now raised the issue with the ICC that the assurance has to come sooner than later so that we don’t go beyond the deadline.
In the last World T20 which was held in India in 2016, Pakistan had played there. Is there a reason for any apprehension about the visas on your part?
Yes, there was an unfortunate incident when in 2019, the Pakistan women’s team were supposed to play a ICC Qualifier there. The BCCI said they had written to the Indian government but did not get a response...this went on for months and eventually, the Indian board said it was too late. The women’s team couldn’t play the match and the points had to be shared. We do not want that kind of a situation to happen again as it’s not good for world cricket.
You had suggested that in case India cannot guarantee the visas, PCB would propose the event to be shifted to the UAE. Are you confident about UAE’s ability to host it?
We are absolutely confident that the UAE can handle it but personally, I feel that the event should be hosted at where it’s meant to be held. The UAE has a strong cricketing infra-structure and we are confident about them hosting any event at the highest level. Actually, we are working with the UAE to jointly bid for some ICC events in the next cycle.
That’s interesting. Is it fair to assume that we can see any bi-lateral series in the UAE, involving Pakistan, again?
No, We are capable of holding all our home matches in Pakistan. Anyone who wants to play us has to play in Pakistan. The only time I would consider holding something there (in the UAE) is if there are any Asian Cricket Council (ACC) events like the Asia Cup. I will be happy to involve other member countries of the Asian council than just India and Pakistan.
Talking about the Asia Cup, when can it be held now?
We swapped the 2020 Asia Cup, which was supposed to be held in Sri Lanka, to 2021 in June because of the pandemic situation last year. However, it’s going to clash with the World Test Championship and hence it will now be held in 2023.
Finally, in Greg Barclay. there is a ICC chairman who is not from the ‘Big Three.’ What will be your expectations from him and can Pakistan get a better deal now in the Future Tours Programme?
Sadly, the ICC now has no role in working out the FTP, though it used to. The Big Three has destroyed it and it’s now dependant on bi-lateral negotiations and we will try to see what we can get. As far as Mr Barclay is concerned, he is the chairman and he has our complete support. I am sure he will work in the interest of all the members.