KARACHI: Najam Sethi, the most powerful man in Pakistan sports. Or at least the most influential. The new overlord of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) — overlooking the pinnacle of the country’s athletics prowess.
Befitting then, that he is also the most divisive. Not in the large boardroom the Board of Governors occupy — a unanimous vote of 10 is as emphatic as emphatic can get.
Everywhere else, Sethi is either angel or demon, sent directly from heaven or hell.
He is a journalist, shout those against him; how can he ever understand the intricacies of a cricketing board, or the mindsets of cricketers who know cricket.
He is a journalist, shout those who support him; he is free from the intricacies that govern our cricket board, nor is he burdened by the mindset of cricketers who only know cricket.
He is a man who rewards sycophants, shout those against him; he only employs those who don’t threaten him He is, after all, a journalist.
He is a man who appreciates loyalty, shout those who support him; he hires only on merit and has a keen eye for making a team. He is, after all, a journalist.
When Pakistan lost the first match in the Champions Trophy against India, those who hated him blamed him for the general malaise that the cricket team was suffering from. With favouritism everywhere, how could the team perform?
Those who supported him were quick to point out that he has little say in activities on the field; he was not, after all, the PCB Chairman but rather just the head of the Executive Committee.
When Pakistan won the final match in the Champions Trophy against India, those who supported him praised him for helping Pakistan win the tournament. It’s main star and player of the tournament — fast-bowler Hasan Ali — was a find of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) after all.
Those who hated him were quick to point out that he has little say in activities on the field; he was not, after all, the PCB Chairman but rather just the head of the Executive Committee.
Even his magnus opus suffers the same fate because of him.
The PSL; the biggest feather in Sethi’s cap. The biggest sporting brand to emerge out of the country; in Sethi’s own words, no less.
That it is THE sporting event in Pakistan is not even up for debate, so both sides of Sethi bicker over the most minute of details.
Were the likes of Fakhar Zaman and Rumman Raees finds of the PSL or were they selected in the PSL due to years and years of hard work in front of empty stands at domestic games? Do these players make the league, or does the league make them?
Is the PSL’s marketing machine flawed considering the lack of stadium audiences or is the PSL’s marketing machine great considering the interest back home?
Did the PSL take the first step to bringing cricket back to Pakistan? Or should such a small step never be considered significant?
Walk into any lounge room filled with guests in the country, loudly yet clearly shout Najam Sethi and calmly walk out of that room. Three hours later you can return to watch them reduced to blows. You have just destroyed a family.
For his part Sethi uses both the carrot and the stick, no matter who he is dealing with. Through all this vitriol and through all this glib, he stays dignified. His manner is calm and measured — at least when dealing with journalists.
Every action of his seems both wise and conniving; depending on who you ask. This is a time for utter joy or complete sorrow; depending on who you ask.
For better or for worse, Sethi will be taking the country’s biggest sport forward.
During his tenure, a lot will change in the game and in the board. What will not change is Sethi’s divisive nature. He is, after all, a journalist.