Wasim Khan predicts a huge two years for Pakistan, with the return of a touring England side for the first time in 16 years among the highlights of a leap towards a full schedule of international cricket in the country.
As the chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board, he has been at the forefront of negotiations between the PCB and the England and Wales Cricket Board to secure England’s first visit since 2005. In 2021 and 2022, as well as England, Pakistan will also host other major tours as something akin to normality descends on this cricket-loving country after more than a decade in the wilderness following the 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore.
“We work very closely with the ECB, we’ve got a good relationship which is built on trust and the will was always there to find a way to come in 2021,” he says. “Initially, we explored the January window but logistically it just couldn’t work out. But we’ve worked hard behind the scenes to find a small window that could make it possible.
“It’s a great feeling for the nation, the country has waited a long time for this. We’ve got a big two years coming up with South Africa coming in January. We’re due to host New Zealand next October for five T20s and three ODIs. We’ve then got England for the two T20s, we then host the West Indies. We’re due to then host Australia and then England, both sort of full tours in 2022, so there’s a lot of work for us still to do.
“We’ve made huge strides forward in the full resumption of international cricket and in particular Test cricket back to Pakistan and you shouldn’t underestimate the value of what that means to the nation.”
Since the 2009 attack, Pakistan have staged their home fixtures in the UAE. Underpinning the return of international cricket in Pakistan – which began with Zimbabwe’s limited-overs tour in 2015 and Sri Lanka’s 2019 tour bringing the resumption of Tests – has been the tireless work by the PCB, with governmental support at every level playing its part. Visiting teams are afforded state level security. Khan is keen to emphasise the planning.
“Pakistan has now proven that it can implement those plans as has been evidenced in the last three or four years. There’s a number of things that we’ve put in place, we certainly would never get complacent.
“Security in Pakistan is as good as anywhere. I think it was Shane Watson who said after the last PSL [Pakistan Super League] that ‘Pakistan is one of the safest places in the world to go and play cricket’. That is because of how the whole situation has improved. A huge amount of work has been done to clean up the major cities.
‘We’re as safe as anywhere and we’ll continue to do everything we can to reassure countries when they come, provide them with state level security and continue to work with the government, the local governments, the police, the army to put all the provisions in place to ensure it gives a level of confidence to the things they’re looking for.”
Along with West Indies, Pakistan were happy to oblige the ECB with last year’s tour in the biosecure conditions of the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford. Many of the Pakistan players have been in one form of biosecure bubble or another for almost a year and while Khan accepts Covid and cricket will have to coexist for a while longer, the PCB is aware of the players’ mental health concerns.
“What we have to make sure we do is give them support. Whether we rotate players or not over the next six months, that’s something for the cricket management to look at. But we have to start to really show the level of care and do that because our boys have now been in these biosecure bubbles for a while.
“It’s something that we have to plan very carefully. We’re looking at how we can bring families into the bubble to at least have the families around them when we play South Africa.”
The 49-year-old Khan, a former Leicestershire CEO and Warwickshire batsman – who in 1990 became the first Briton of Pakistani heritage awarded a professional contract – was hired by the PCB in 2018 on a three-year contract. The appointment was met with resistance in some quarters as Khan is not a product of the Pakistan system. Birmingham-born Khan, who has been polishing up his Urdu skills, admits the reaction came as a shock.
“I wasn’t prepared for some of the negativity and hostility I would face from a small section of the media in Pakistan. Initially when you come in from abroad there will be scepticism based around that until you start to deliver. I’d come from outside the Pakistan system. I’d never played domestic cricket [in Pakistan], I hadn’t worked [there] I’d lived all my life in England so naturally people were sceptical about somebody from another country coming here and actually telling them how they could run their cricket.”
Part of Khan’s remit was to overhaul the domestic game, scaling it down from 16 to six teams which was favoured by Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister and the captain of the 1992 World Cup-winning team.
The PCB constitution changed in August 2019 and the re-structuring brought a slimmer domestic format with a loss of playing and coaching positions. Khan’s comments that the PCB was not an employment bureau did not sit right with some, including Azhar Ali, Misbah Ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez. Unbeknown to Khan they petitioned the prime minister to step in.
“It was disappointing. All you can do is discuss the reasons why, express our disappointment and talk to them about that sort of thing not happening again. They all agreed that perhaps there should have been better dialogue with us prior to arranging that meeting with the prime minister.”
Khan has returned to the Midlands for the holidays to be with his young family. HIs mood is relaxed and easy until the subject of our conversation switches to India. Khan has spoken of the “decent” relationship between the PCB and the Board for Control of Cricket in India, but the board’s ties to the Indian government presents a challenge greater than cricket for now. Perhaps the two nation’s leaders, Imran and Narendra Modi, could play a super over to decide on resuming Test matches? Wasim has a quiet chuckle before offering: “You won’t get many pitched up.”
Intelligent, eloquent, assured and equally adroit in the west and the east, Khan has accepted it is a huge task to take Pakistan cricket to the next level.
“I knew it was going to be a huge challenge but it’s something I’ve thrived on in all my career,” he says. “It’s always been about challenge for me and I’ve come in and thankfully we’ve made huge strides.
“It’s a 40-year structure that you’ve changed, you’re not going to see results in six months. It takes time. Better wickets, better coaching, we’ve revamped our whole coaching system and our structure, aligned it with the ECB in terms of our coaching courses.
“What we’re trying to build is long-term success for Pakistan cricket. There’s still a lot of work to be done and my focus is firmly on that.”