Ehsan Mani: 'Imran has always encouraged Pakistan to play India'

Ehsan Mani adds that he has opened a dialogue channel with the BCCI executives for a "future course of action".

Ehsan Mani during a press conference at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.   -  AFP

A day after the newly-elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former World Cup-winning captain, used unparliamentary language for his India counterpart, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Ehsan Mani hoped it will not have any bearing on the already-strained relationship between the PCB and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The PCB chairman took on questions from journalists across the continent on various issues plaguing Pakistan cricket.

Excerpts:

Does Imran Khan’s tweet have the potential to strain relations further between both the countries and both the boards?

As far as Imran Khan’s tweet is concerned, India had also given a statement, it was a reaction to that. Cricket boards have to work towards playing cricket, they shouldn’t get into politics, that’s what we’re talking with our Indian counterparts. There’s some bridge building to do, hopefully we will be able to make some ground because the relations haven’t been great.

Will Imran’s statements make it tough for PCB to convince BCCI for bilateral cricket?

Imran Khan’s statement shouldn’t be looked at in isolation. India too made a personal dig at him against a few unfortunate killings in Kashmir. So his response may have been because of that. When politicians talk, we shouldn’t get it into it. We should focus on matters concerning the cricket boards. When the Kargil incident happened, even then we didn’t stop dialogues. We knew cricket was tough, but every effort was made to renew bilateral ties. I strongly believe politics and politicians shouldn’t influence cricket. Politics has no role to play in cricket, if politics enters, then cricket will be used as a tool in politics. Imran Khan, like the previous governments of Pakistan, has always encouraged matches against India.

Don't you think Imran Khan's tweet was rash, and it might affect India-Pakistan cricket?

Look, I'll say it again. What politicians talk, we shouldn't get into that. Our concentration should be on keeping the dialogue between the two boards going. I was in a similar situation when the Kargil incident happened. I was involved with the ICC and we never left our dialogue. We understood that in those circumstances, playing cricket was tough. But our full effort was to quickly bring the relationship between the two countries on a track where there can be cricket between the two.

Today India and Pakistan are playing here, and I strongly believe that there shouldn't be interference from politics and politicians in cricket. Hence, I have no doubt that very clearly that politics has no role to play in cricket and if there's politics in cricket, then cricket will be used as a tool for politics, which is wrong. Why doesn't this happen in the IOC, because IOC is very tough. If politics or politicians interfere...

Will Imran Khan allow the boards to continue playing against each other?

Imran Khan, like the previous governments of Pakistan, has always encouraged Pakistan to play against India.

How do you see the ongoing legal dispute against BCCI?

There’s a process that has started and it’s in its last stages. All the processes have taken due course, the final statements are due from October 1-3through the ICC arbitration panel. At this stage, it will be tough to comment. The process has gone further. I’ve always been with India, or any country for that matter. I used to treat all countries fairly during my time as ICC chairman.

Any team or India, if they tried to put pressure, during my time I never gave any favours. It’s important to maintain that balance. I’ve said this earlier, had I been involved when the dispute happened, every effort would have been made to sort it bilaterally. Unfortunately, we are where we are. We have to still progress, but my doors are always open.

How do you plan to build relationship with BCCI?

I have already had a very constructive discussion with my colleagues from India who are here. We'll have a lot of common ground going forward. We all understand whatever has happened in the past has happened; we have to move forward. At the end of the day, the game is bigger than any one person, it's bigger than the politicians. It reaches out across global spectrum.

When an India-Pakistan match is played, over a 100 billion people watch the game from all over the world. No one cares about the politics. The main thing is to get the cricket going and this is a main thing in that direction. Inshaallah, I am very hopeful the Board will work towards it. Am not saying we will get results on day one but we will work towards the common goal. The Board's endeavour should be for cricket, not anything else.

Read: Pakistan to review position on global cricket leagues

Do you fear that the legal suit may turn out to be counterproductive for PCB?

As I said, this process has already gone beyond resolving it amicably. It's in the final stages of reaching a conclusion. Both sides have to find a common solution for the future and I'll explore every possibility for the sake of the game.

How important is it for you to get Test cricket back to Pakistan? Will you invite SLC given the relationship has been a good one?

I’ve got no security concerns in Pakistan today, absolutely. Obviously bilateral cricket, especially Test cricket in Pakistan is absolutely essential. So that’s going to be right up in my list of priorities. Sri Lanka is in a state of flux, the board has been dismantled, there is a temporary set up till the elections take place. At the ICC meeting in October, I’ll meet with the other countries and find out what their reservations are to come to Pakistan.

You have been brought on board to bring about a change. Is PCB doing a good job and what's the strategy for PSL?

Look, first you've to understand what the ground realities are. I've taken my first step towards that. After that I'll assess if what PCB is doing is is effective and fit for purpose. Then you think how to improve it. Bringing about change is the last. There's not one department of PCB that I will not look after closely. In office, I've been physically only for 8 days. It'll take some time. I'm not going to rush, or force people. I'll give opportunities to everyone, so that I can view their work. After that I'll decide myself if they're fit for purpose for PCB.

The process for PSL has already begun. Meetings with franchises have also started. I want to bring about transparency to PSL. So because of that, whatever key committees are there – sales of media rights, sale of sponsorship – there'll be at least two representatives from franchises so that they can look at it. After all, bulk of the money from those goes to the franchises. PCB gets a small percentage. So their interest in this so I want them to be involved in decision making.

Are you trying to get Pakistan's series to be more than two Tests in any series?

I want Pakistan to never play lesser than 3 Tests. Test cricket is the ultimate test for players. So my effort is to ensure there are a minimum of three Tests in a series.

BCCI has stopped players from playing other T20 leagues. Players are overburdened. Are you thinking on the lines of stopping main contracted players from playing in any other franchise?

Players' workload is huge. There is proliferation of franchises and leagues. We've to be very very selective. PCB already has a policy in principle that no player can play more than one T20 league outside PSL. If they're non-season ones, like they're playing in West Indies, or South Africa or England, that won't clash with PCB. In fact, those I would look at.

Take for example, England. Pakistan players who go and play in the summer. they're not playing any cricket in Pakistan .We've to be very very selective in order to protect our players. BCCI has done a commendable job in this of looking after their players, looking after their workload. Virat Kohli is not here today, and for good reason. He's played a lot of cricket that he can rest now. And we've to adopt a similar policy.

Did you discuss with BCCI about India-Pak playing in the World Test Championship?

The World Test Championship is apparently divided in two cycles. From 19 to 21, there are certain teams with which they have already made a cycle. But I have got assurance from the ICC that in the second cycle from 21 to 23, the PCB and India are scheduled to play each other. That's already been decided, I don't have any input in it.

What is the fate of bilateral cricket between India and Pakistan?

You look at today's match, it's like a festival for supporters from both the nations. Even in England for the Champions Trophy final, we saw how great the response was. It is extremely important for India and Pakistan to play bilaterally for the health of cricket. But (it should be) on equal grounds, on equal footing. The most important factor is both the boards keep talking to each other.

If you remember, in 2002, India and Pakistan were not playing with each other. When I went to India in 2003, the Indian board administrators like Raj Singh Dungarpur, Dalmiya saab, Bindra saab took me to the ministers to convince them to let cricket resume. I had already sought the permission of President Musharraf for speaking with the Indian politicians.

More than me, it was heartening to see my Indian board colleagues were pushing more for the resumption of bilateral cricket. We have to rebuild such relationships. Cricket boards should work in tandem for the progress of the game rather than fighting amongst themselves.

Every Board has taken concrete steps towards the development of women's cricket after the last year's World Cup? What is the PCB doing?

It's a very good question. I was quite surprised that the pool of women cricketers in Pakistan is very small, so obviously we have to increase the pool substantially. One of the main things we have to focus on is that all the men's cricket associations in the country adopt women's cricket equally and develop it in every town, every region.

India has done it very well, Bangladesh has done it very well. We are dealing with a very very small pool at the moment and this is going to be an important priority for me to develop this. Thank you for this question. We have to try and popularise the game even more in women and children. It's already popular but we have to get them to come and play.

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