Kolkata: Ramiz Raja, a former Pakistan captain and member of Imran Khan’s World Cup winning squad of 1992, had an eventful first day in office on Monday after taking over as the Pakistan Cricket Board’s 36th chairman.
If he said in his first press conference that his main agenda would be to ensure Pakistan plays the brand of fearless, aggressive cricket which made them such a dominant force in the Nineties - Raja backed it up with a major announcement. Matthew Hayden, the Australian opener who was a part of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting’s World Cup winning squads, alongwith South African speedster Vernon Philander, have been added to the squad with an idea of infusing a winning mentality in the team.
‘‘Matthew Hayden is Australian, and has experience of winning World Cups and was a great player himself,’’ Raja said while explaining the PCB’s sudden move - given the fact that the national team does not have a head coach and bowling coach at the moment. ‘‘It might be beneficial to have an Australian occupying the dressing room. And Pakistan, of course, can win the World Cup, they just need to improve their performances by an extra 10%. Vernon Philander I know very well and he understands bowling and had has a great record against Australia,’’ said Raja, whose appointment was greeted with cautious optimism at a former player becoming a part of establishment.
The only parallel of Raja that comes to mind in contemporary cricket is that of Sourav Ganguly, the charismatic former Indian captain, who took over the reins of the Indian cricket board in end-2019. The backing of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the constitutional Patron-in-Chief of PCB, will certainly be there - but Raja has to fill into the big shoes of Ehsan Mani.
The latter, a former chairman of International Cricket Council (ICC), has left the PCB in good health with a vibrant product in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and international teams back to touring Pakistan - though the national team is on the lookout for a much-needed consistency on the field. The T20 World Cup, which takes place in the UAE in about a month’s time, offers Pakistan an excellent opportunity to redeem themselves as it had been a home venue to them for more than a decade and will offer crowd support in equal measure like India.
Raja, who is only the fourth former Pakistan international cricketer to become PCB chief after Abdul Hafeez Kardar (1972-1977), Javed Burki (1994-1995) and Ijaz Butt (2008-2011), is an ideal example of been there and done that. Apart from carrying with him the experience of having played 57 Test matches and 198 ODIs, during which he has scored 8674 runs from both forms of the game, he had been a hugely popular TV pundit (often known as the Voice of Pakistan), media personality apart from having represented Pakistan on the ICC Chief Executives’ Committee and on the MCC World Cricket Committee.
He also enjoys a long association with UAE - which extends beyond his playing days in Sharjah as he has friends and had business interests in Dubai. Speaking about Raja’s partnership is setting up a tea lounge at the Ibn Batuta Mall in Dubai, Ajay Sethi, chairman of Channel 2 Group, recollected over phone: “Ramiz is one of the finest business partners I’ve worked with and it was a great experience working with him. Ramiz used to regularly tour Sri Lanka and he got connected with Dilmah tea owners and decided to set up a tea lounge here.
‘‘He is educated and knowledgeable and what attracted me is his honesty. I am sure he will bring these qualities to the table as an administrator,’’ Sethi told Gulf News.
Incidentally, Raja’s previous stint with the PCB as a Chief Executive in 2004 was a shortlived one. As he takes fresh guard, he will be looking to play a long and fruitful innings.