PakPassion Presents An Exclusive Interview with Sultan Rana

PakPassion.Net: First of all, many thanks for giving us time for this interview. For those of us who are not aware of your role, can you please explain what your role is at the PCB?

Sultan Rana: I joined the PCB two and a half years ago. Before that, I was working for the ICC as Regional Development Manager for Asia region. After joining PCB, my main role was to plan, organise and execute domestic cricket – from grass root level to the national level which of course starts from the district level to regional level and so on and so forth.

PakPassion.Net: The structure of Pakistani domestic cricket is continually criticised by current and former players. Obviously there are also those who are in favour of the structure. Do you have any plans to change the structure and layout of Pakistani domestic cricket?

Sultan Rana: Well, not too many people want it changed – they are very few. There may be some problems because of the departmental teams and regional teams playing at the First Class level simultaneously. The criticism is mainly that the regions should be sponsored by those departments which are playing – they should sponsor the various regional teams and own those teams rather than playing their own teams. So this culture which is not present here has to be inducted in Pakistan. Other countries like India also have departmental teams playing in their domestic cricket.

The main objective is to get the best players, to nurture the talent and to produce the players who can expand at the international level. In the last seven to ten years, there have been so many players from the Pakistani domestic cricket who have played for Pakistan. I agree that there are some grey areas which we need to address - and we are trying to address them and plug the holes. But I don’t think there is any need for big up and down change to bring drastic changes in our domestic cricket.

PakPassion.Net: With the current domestic structure, do you think that the departmental teams have a distinct advantage over the regional teams, especially in terms of finances and the players they can attract?

Sultan Rana: Exactly. I think you are absolutely right. What the departments do is that they provide jobs to good promising and budding cricketers – something which the regions lack as they don’t pay that much. We are trying to inject some money into regional cricket as well. We are proposing central contracts for cricketers who play First Class cricket for the regions.

So clearly there is a big difference between the departmental teams and the regional teams but what we are trying to do is to minimise that gap, which is a big gap. The good thing about departmental teams is that they provide jobs and security to the players and they are professional outfits – they have professional set-ups which we lack in the regional teams. They have full-fledged sports departments run by administrators and skilled staff – something that we lack in the regional teams. That is what we have proposed and what we are trying to do from this year onwards – to have a full-fledged regional set-up, to hire skilled people and people for marketing so they can find sponsorship for the regions. Apart from the support from PCB, they would also look towards non-PCB funding. So yes, we are trying to minimise the gap between departmental cricket and regional cricket.

I am myself a product of the same system. I played for my college, then my city, university and finally for Habib Bank who have been here for nearly two decades.

PakPassion.Net: Just to clarify – the way the current set-up is at the moment, you don’t see any imminent changes with regards to the structure of First Class cricket.

Sultan Rana: As I said, it is not easy to disband everything overnight. It will take some time. We are trying to make it more competitive. Ever since joined, I have changed a few things in domestic cricket. To make it more competitive, we made two divisions in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this season. Now there are twelve teams in Division One and ten teams in Division Two. So we have tried to make it a bit more competitive.

Last year, it was a total one-sided affair – the departmental teams were very good while the regional teams were not. But two years ago, Karachi City Cricket Association was the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy champion. After that, Sialkot region was the champion of this tournament. They beat the star-studded departmental teams. So regional teams are coming up but we only need to support these regional teams and guide them, which we are doing.

PakPassion.Net: One of the complaints from a number of First Class cricketers we speak to is the lack of preparation with regards to fixtures. The announcement of tournaments and fixtures is quite often left to the last minute. Why is it that the domestic fixtures are not announced at the start of the season, like they are in England for example?

Sultan Rana: Yeah, I know everywhere it is done like that. But since the last two to three years, there’s no international cricket being played in Pakistan. So suddenly a tour of Pakistan team that is not a part of the FTP comes up out of nowhere due to which we have to re-adjust the dates and venues as most of the players would go with the Pakistan team. These things come up suddenly and then we have to re-adjust our calendar and get the budget and the calendar-structure approval. Last year, we got it approved and we circulated it to all the stakeholders – and that is what we are going to do this year as well. We are meeting next week to finalise everything and circulate it. That’s not a big issue because we organise a huge number of matches. We organise matches at the district level too – and there are about 192 matches at the Under-19 level and the same number of matches at the Senior level – and I’m only talking about the grass root level. So around 400+ matches are organised and played at these levels. We only have 120 First Class matches in total. A player who also goes on to play the Pentangular Cup only has to play 14-15 First Class matches [per season]. If you look at it from another angle, each player is getting about 25-30 innings in one season, which is not a big deal!

PakPassion.Net: Pakistan are due to tour the West Indies and the West Indies have announced their Twenty20 squad – they have left some players out who didn’t play in their Twenty20 domestic competition. Why is it that a lot of Pakistani international players don’t play domestic cricket even when they are in Pakistan and not touring? And does that frustrate you?

Sultan Rana: I agree. I think that should be the case here too! I remember there were certain players who didn’t play in the First Class circuit last year – and they were not considered for selection [in the Pakistan team]. So this policy is already in place and I think we need to be more strict about it. Only the players who participate in domestic cricket should be considered for the national team. I think this policy is being followed.

PakPassion.Net: Just to clarify – what you are saying is that any players who are not making themselves available for their domestic teams should be ruled out from the international team.

Sultan Rana: I think that’s the way it should be. We have a selection committee – they go and watch these matches and they have records of all the players. They don’t consider the players who have not represented [their domestic teams] or have not performed. That is why if you just take a look at the previous Pakistani team, in the last 3 years or so, they have been changed. So domestic cricket is providing them replacements for the players who are unfit, not performing well or on the verge of retirement - so that we have a backup. A lot depends upon those who are picked up as replacements to maintain their position in the team. It’s not that the domestic cricket is not producing players at all – that is rubbish! If you look at the Pakistan team in the last ten years, all these players have come up from Pakistani domestic cricket. Right from the year 2000, all of them came through the pathway which we have here in Pakistan – a system where they come and then go on to represent Pakistan.

PakPassion.Net: The standard of fielding in the Pakistan team has never been great. According to the players we speak to, the reasons are standard of the outfield - and some even say that the coaches in domestic cricket don’t pay much attention to fielding and concentrate rather on batting and bowling only. What are your thoughts on the standard of coaching at the domestic level, especially when it comes to fielding?

Sultan Rana: I think Pakistan team has never been a good fielding outfit. Look at our fifty years of history – they were all average, mediocre fielders but they still went on to play for Pakistan for years. So fielding was never an integral part of Pakistan cricket, which is very unfortunate.

As far as the coaches are concerned, they are employed by the PCB. They do implement all the drills and everything else that they have learnt during their playing days as well as through their coaching experience. Fielding is one thing that nobody can teach you. It’s all up to your individual efforts. If you want to improve, you go and practise on your own. The practice has to be done by each individual. To me if you are not a good fielder, you can’t be picked for the national team because fielding is such an important component of cricket. It has not been taken seriously in Pakistan in the past.

PakPassion.Net: Some of the batsmen have rather large and impressive averages in Pakistani domestic cricket. But in international cricket, they tend to struggle against seaming deliveries or good spin bowling. Why have the Pakistani batsmen of recent times struggled to make the jump from domestic level to international level?

Sultan Rana: Once the international teams start touring Pakistan, these players won’t have to go to England, New Zealand, Abu Dhabi or Sri Lanka to play their home series. When playing a series at home, you are used to the pitches and the atmosphere there which definitely helps a lot.

Yes, I agree there are people who have immense talent but they don’t know the importance of staying at the wicket – they just throw their wickets away. As I said earlier, If you look at our great players of the past like Javed Miandad, Salim Malik or Inzamam-ul-Haq, they are all products of domestic cricket. But the difference between them and others was that they knew the importance of their wicket - they knew they could only get runs as long as they were in the centre. They were hungry for runs. I think these [new] players need to have that hunger to get maximum runs and not throw their wickets when they are in form, after getting 25-30 runs. Each individual needs to realise how important his wicket is for his team. Every team that plays for each other [team work] is very hard to beat - that is one theory which I believe in.

PakPassion.Net: The PCB experimented with the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final, making it a day-night match with different coloured cricket balls. Is it something that we can see for the next season? Also do you think it was a bit unfair on the players just to bring that in for the final and not earlier in the tournament?

Sultan Rana: I agree but it was just to experiment. It was a wonderful experience. Pakistan became the first cricketing nation to organise a five-day match under lights. Four-day matches have been played under lights in the West Indies and in Australia in the past. But it was the first time when a five-day match was played under lights and that too with orange cricket balls. Before the match, we provided both the teams with orange and pink coloured cricket balls. They were also allowed to practise under lights. So everyone was happy and satisfied. And look at the match result - the match went on till the fifth day!

PakPassion.Net: The Faysal Bank T20 competition was very popular in Pakistan but there seem to be very few fans who attend four-day cricket matches. What is the PCB doing to attract fans to attend the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches?

Sultan Rana: I remember in my time, stadiums used to be full because of all the stars playing in domestic cricket. People would come to watch them play in the stadiums, Gymkhana grounds and Punjab University ground. Same goes for other cities as well. Big crowds used to come to watch those games. But now I think people are just inclined to watch the shorter version of the game. If you look at the ICC policy, Twenty20 is for the public – it’s all about entertainment. I agree that it is one format that can bring people out of their homes. Even if we have a Test match here in Pakistan, let’s say Pakistan playing against Australia or England, you will hardly see people coming to the grounds because they have their own problems that their coping with in their lives! People only want to go and watch Twenty20 or One Day cricket. That is why Twenty20 has become so immensely popular. Last year, we had two [T20 tournaments] in the same season. It is solely for the public – to bring them out of their homes and enjoy themselves. But they don’t come for the First Class matches which is very unfortunate. This is because of multiple reasons and not only because they are struck with other problems in their life! The major issue is still that of security.

PakPassion.Net: What are the plans to try and get people to come to the four-day matches? What can the PCB do to actually get the fans into the grounds to watch the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches?

Sultan Rana: Last year, I wrote to most of the schools in various cities to send their children for a day or for half a session so that we can generate interest among the younger generation which is the foremost important thing for the country. We need to generate interest among the youngsters so we can attract them to healthy activities. Lots of schools were very keen and they sent their students, their families and teachers which was an encouraging sign. I think that is one thing we have been doing in the last two years. But I think the major concern in Pakistan is still that of security. People don’t even want to send their children [to watch matches].

If you watch the domestic Twenty20 competition, you will see that the whole of Lahore is watching it inside the Gaddafi Stadium. We held the tournament in Lahore last year, and in Karachi the year before that and there was a capacity crowd. Everywhere people were talking about that tournament. Even though it was being shown on TV, people were coming in to the ground to watch it because they have interest in cricket and they were supporting their players as well.

PakPassion.Net: There were some rumblings about some domestic cricketers not being paid on time during the last season. Is that true?

Sultan Rana: We don’t give salaries to domestic cricketers – we haven’t started it as yet. We only give them the match fees and their allowances. We don’t give salaries to the players who represent regional teams – not at all.

PakPassion.Net: Were there delays in the match fees being paid to them then?

Sultan Rana: Yes, it was the case in some places. That’s because there are so many cricketers in Pakistan. Many belong to remote areas and don’t have bank accounts. So we were finding it difficult to send it to those cricketers. So it took some time as they had to open their accounts. Some were not able to open their accounts because banks have their own rules and criteria for opening an account. What we did was to send it to their regional heads or to their family members – whoever they propose to receive the money if they didn’t have accounts and we sent the cheques in favour of those nominees.

PakPassion.Net: Based on the success of the Faysal Bank T20 and the IPL, is the PCB planning an official tournament – perhaps a Pakistan Premier League in Dubai in the future?

Sultan Rana: Yeah, I think we considered it about two years ago. Even the documents were complete and we were all set to go. But suddenly the Mumbai incident happened and then all of a sudden, the Sri Lankan team was attacked. We had to shelve all of our plans. But we are considering that option. I spoke with the officials of other cricket boards during my visit to Sri Lanka recently. But they are reluctant to send their players to Pakistan. But yes, Sri Lanka is one team which is still willing to come and play in Pakistan. We might have it [PPL] in Dubai. The idea was discussed and it is still pretty much on our tables and has not been shelved. I am sure we will come up with something similar to the IPL and the Sri Lankan Premier League.

PakPassion.Net:We appreciate your time today. We wish you and all the other members of the Pakistan Cricket Board and of course, Pakistan cricket best wishes for the future.