LAHORE: Pakistan’s pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi is expected to be available for the national side’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup opener against arch-rivals India on Oct 23.

Shaheen injured his knee during Pakistan’s tour of Sri Lanka in July and was ruled out of the ongoing Asia Cup T20 despite being named in the preliminary squad.

The left-armer travelled to the Netherlands with the team for the three-match One-day International series against the hosts and to the United Arab Emirates for the Asia Cup.

Although the Pakistan Cricket Board had claimed before the Netherlands series that Shaheen would continue his rehabilitation while accompanying the national squad, he was sent to London for what the board’s chief medical officer Najeebullah Soomro termed as “uninterrupted, dedicated knee specialist care”.

The step raised questions if the PCB realised the seriousness of the injury in its early stages. The belief at the board’s higher offices is that Shaheen will be available by the start of the T20 showpiece in Australia.

“The PCB medical team has been receiving daily reports over the knee injury status of Shaheen and we expect the bowler will be there with the national team to play against India on October 23 in the World Cup match,” PCB’s chief executive officer Faisal Hasnain told Dawn on Thursday.

“From Sri Lanka to London, the PCB has been following the advice of the medical team and if they advise Shaheen to have treatment in the US then the PCB will follow that too.”

Faisal said the decision to keep Shaheen with the team for the Netherlands tour and the Asia Cup was taken to have the PCB’s medical experts at the bowler’s disposal in person.

“We are receiving good reports from London on Shaheen’s recovery and the decision to keep the bowler with the national team was taken because our best medical experts were travelling with the team so he (Shaheen) could get every possible help on time,” said the PCB CEO. “Shaheen is our national asset and one of the top world class bowlers.”

Pakistan is scheduled to host the 2023 Asia Cup and the 2025 ICC Champions Trophy but there are questions over the preparedness of the national stadia, which have not hosted international tournaments since the 2008 Asia Cup.

Faisal, who joined the PCB in December last year, admitted that the venues were far from ready to accommodate big international events. The 62-year-old said the PCB had to align their stadia according to the standards set by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

“We have to sign different agreements with the ICC to meet its requirements and it will take a couple of months,” Faisal said.

“Then the ICC consultants will come to Pakistan to visit the stadiums to point out what they need more,” he added, admitting the time was running short.

Apart from upgrading the stadiums, the PCB has also revealed its plans to build hotels near the stadiums to accommodate the visiting teams. The board’s chairman Ramiz Raja has mentioned numerous times that the step needs to be taken to control the amount of problems citizens have to face due to heavy security.

Faisal said a couple of locations have been spotted in Lahore for building the required infrastructure and that data was being gathered regarding the issue.

Faisal revealed that another extension will be given to the ad-hoc bodies of the six provincial cricket associations on Sept. 4 with the club scrutiny project still incomplete.

The previous extension was granted six months ago with the expectation that a private firm — hired for club scrutiny — will help the PCB get closer to the district and provincial level elections, which haven’t took place since the implementation of a revamped PCB constitution in 2019.

The revamp wasn’t limited to the board’s administrative structure. It also saw the domestic cricket system switch from the departmental cricket model to the representation of just the six associations side in it.

The step meant the role of departments — which used to employ hundreds of cricketers — ended. Last year, the then ruling government implemented the step across all sports. Recently, however, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced the departmental system will be restored.

Faisal said the PCB had not received any such notifications from the government and will continue to stick with the current domestic structure.

The former ICC official also defended the PCB’s decision to take the full ownership rights of the inaugural Pakistan Junior League — slated for October — after its team ownership rights went unsold despite initial plans to conduct the PJL as a franchise-based tournament.

Faisal believed the PJL was a “great” initiative and said the PCB would hold it “at a world-class level”.

“We should feel proud that the PCB has introduced the league at the junior level and all the cricket boards appreciated the idea and allowed their players to participate in it,” he said.

Faisal said 80 per cent of the PCB funding was being spent on cricket and the remaining on administration adding that the number of the PCB staff was high because the PCB was managing the affairs of all the stadiums, a practice alien to the developed world of cricket.

The official said he had almost 40 years experience of working in various sectors and wished to deliver all his experience for the betterment of Pakistan cricket.

He also hinted that the PCB is planning to add former one-day cricketers to its pension scheme.

“Currently the scheme is limited to Test cricketers but the point is being considered to expand it to the ODI cricketers too,” said Faisal.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2022

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