Ashraf battling to restore pride in Pakistan cricket

 

When Pakistan face hosts Sri Lanka in a Twenty20 international today one spectator in particular in the Hambantota stadium will be hoping for a straightforward competition in which the best team wins.

Zaka Ashraf admits that since his appointment as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in October it has been difficult to just sit back and watch the game he has loved since childhood.

It is corruption that has preoccupied Ashraf as he tackles one of the hardest tasks in sport: trying to revive his country's reputation following the spot fixing scandal that led to the jailing of former Test captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.

Their convictions for receiving money in return for bowling deliberate no balls in a Test match against England in 2010 was the culmination of a disastrous period for Pakistan cricket with the PCB accused of mismanagement, infighting and being unwilling to combat deep rooted corruption.

To add to the problems, since 2009 no cricket playing nation has toured Pakistan on security grounds following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.

Ashraf said: "Tackling corruption and rebuilding the image of the Pakistan team is my first priority. I don't want to see my country as an outcast of the international cricket community any more. I am determined to restore pride and honour in Pakistan cricket."

Ashraf has spent most of his life in banking but insists that not being part of the cricket fraternity is an advantage because he is not afraid to instigate change.

Under him measures to tackle corruption have been introduced. Players on tour are not allowed to use laptops and sim cards for their mobiles are issued to them by the PCB. A 10pm curfew is enforced, no visitors are allowed into players' rooms and security teams patrol hotel floors and lobbies.

The PCB has set up an integrity committee which examines the finances of some players before allowing them to be selected and is in talks with the Pakistan government about introducing a law that will make corruption in cricket a criminal offence.

The PCB has also said that any player tainted by corruption allegations will not be eligible for selection until investigated. It is working with the England and Wales Cricket Board which is holding an inquiry this month into Danish Kaneria for his alleged involvement in the Mervyn Westfield spot fixing case. Westfield was sentenced to four months imprisonment in February after admitting taking money in return for conceding a set number of runs in a Pro40 match against Durham in 2009. Kaneria was also arrested but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

Despite its new stance Ashraf insists this is still not enough to combat corruption within cricket because it is a problem not just for Pakistan but the whole of the game. He is critical of the International Cricket Council (ICC), claiming that it needs to be more proactive in the fight against corruption. "All of cricket is being targeted by corrupt bookmakers. It is not just a Pakistani problem and all major cricket playing countries have had problems. Pakistan cannot fight this menace alone. I would like the ICC's anti-corruption unit to work closer with us. They should be meeting us on a regular basis, provide us with more intelligence and introduce a strategy to stop corruption."

Corruption aside, other priorities for Ashraf include organising a series with arch rivals India and the resumption of teams touring Pakistan. For the banker, a return of two out of three on his investment in Pakistan cricket would be considered a job well done. "If we can beat corruption and India then I am sure all Pakistanis will be very happy," he laughs.

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