When Wasim retired from cricket, his career having petered out disappointingly at the age of just 30, he was seriously concerned about what the future held. He had not been to university. The excellent work which the
Professional Cricketers Association does in 2019 to prepare players for life after cricket did not exist back then. The future was an unknown quantity.
"There is a lot of pressure and scrutiny but that’s because there is a such a passion for cricket in this great country. The fans are pretty volatile. If you win a game you are world-beaters – if you lose, it is the end of the world."
He certainly did not envisage heading up a £50million campaign to get youngsters into cricket or being awarded an MBE or becoming chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board. That would seem ludicrous.
But, remarkably, it all happened.
And it started with some letters popped into a postbox in Small Heath.
“There I was suddenly out of cricket and it wasn’t an easy time,” Wasim said. “I needed to find a new direction.
“So I wrote to every school in Birmingham offering to get into them and get cricket back into state schools. The take-up was huge and it went well. I remember a fantastic double-page spread written by Brian Halford in the Birmingham Post – ‘Where The Streets Have No Game.’ That really helped.
“I also started working, through contacts made by Tim Munton, at the Professional Cricketers Association as Community Development Manager. I discovered how much I enjoyed working on projects and delivering them and started to realise that coaching was not for me.
“Then one day I was in my mum’s kitchen, having just taken a coaching session at Small Heath School, when my mobile rang. A woman on the line said that Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, wanted to talk to me. Well, I thought my mates would never have dreamed that one up as a wind-up!”
This was April 2005 and Wasim soon discovered that it was no wind-up – and that King was deadly serious about his mission to reboot cricket in schools
“Mervyn’s secretary told me that he wanted to see me so I went down to see him in Threadneedle Street the next day. He told me about his vision to get cricket back into schools and asked me what I thought. I said perhaps we could raise £1million to back the campaign. Mervyn said: ‘Let’s aim for £50 million.’ He said if I could raise £25million from the private sector he would get the Government to match-fund it. That showed he was serious.”
The Chance to Shine programme was born. Headed by Wasim under the umbrella of the Cricket Foundation (the charitable arm of the England and Wales Cricket Board) over the next ten years, Chance to Shine was to reach nearly 11,000 schools, introducing the game for 2.5million children – all the more important at a time when live international cricket disappeared from terrestrial television. He also added ‘successful author’ to his burgeoning CV when his autobiography, Brim Full of Passion, was voted Wisden Book of the Year in 2007.
Wasim’s leadership of Chance to Shine earned him an MBE, in 2014. Still only 43, however, he remained hungry for more challenges. The Chance to Shine work had honed his leadership skills and, with that experience backed up by a Master of Business Administration degree from Warwick Business School, he joined Leicestershire CCC as chief executive in January 2015.
“I loved it at Leicester but it was a really tough gig,” he said. “Like all counties at non-Test grounds they were up against it financially. When I arrived they had recorded £1m losses in the previous two years and not won a game on the field for three.
“We had to raise money and raise morale and we did that. The team won some games, and for the first three years we turned a profit. We improved the facilities and the hospitality suites, had 16,000 in for an Elton John concert and co-hosted the Women’s World Cup. It was always a battle but there are some really good people at the club and we made progress.”
That progress in difficult circumstances impressed a lot of people in cricket, including at the ECB. When the search began for a successor to Andrew Strauss as England managing director, Wasim was short-listed – but then suddenly the way was cleared for Ashley Giles to get the job because another opportunity knocked.
The Pakistan Cricket Board was looking for a chief executive – and the amazing story of the Brummie with family origins in Kashmir was about to get another twist.
“I was in the frame for the England job but then the Pakistan role came up,” he said. “Tom Harrison and Colin Graves at the ECB were great when I told them this job would be so special for me I had to go for it. Imran Khan had just become prime minister and it is such an exciting time for Pakistan cricket. I spoke to the PCB and couldn’t have been more proud to get the job and take over take over.”
That was last February. Ten months down the line, Wasim’s pride in having such a prestigious post is still tangible. He is thoroughly relishing it – in all its glorious complexity.
"One of my main objectives was to reorganise the domestic game and we have gone from 16 teams to six provinces and brought in a similar points system to the one used in England. We have brought in the ‘no toss’ option and changed to a Kookaburra ball."
For anybody who wants a quiet life, chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board is not the gig for them. Pakistan supporters are among the most passionate in world cricket with every aspect of the game and its leaders subject to intense scrutiny.
But Wasim Khan always embraced a challenge…
“It is relentless,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure and scrutiny but that’s because there is a such a passion for cricket in this great country. The fans are pretty volatile. If you win a game you are world-beaters – if you lose, it is the end of the world! Cricket and politics – they are the things that really matter here.
“I knew when I took over there was a lot to do to get Pakistan cricket to where it needs to be but we have made a lot of progress. One of my main objectives was to reorganise the domestic game and we have gone from 16 teams to six provinces and brought in a similar points system to the one used in England. We have brought in the ‘no toss’ option and changed to a Kookaburra ball. All women players now get paid and the selection panel of the women’s team is all-female and, with an average age of 32, relevant.
“We have had to cost-cut quite a bit and when you do that, of course there is some resistance. But we needed to cost-cut. India don’t play us at the moment and when you think that any series with India brought in around $60million dollars that’s a big hole to fill.”
Most significantly, international cricket has returned to Pakistan. After a decade of playing ‘home’ games at neutral venues following the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in March 2009, the Sri Lankans returned to Pakistan for a white-ball tour in September and October this year. Next week, Test cricket will return when Pakistan face Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi.
In the New Year, Bangladesh and South Africa will visit and it is hoped that the whole of the Pakistan Super League will be played in Pakistan. A tour by the MCC is scheduled for February while further down the line England are due in late 2022.
“Tom Harrison and Martin Darlow from the ECB came out to visit us,” said Wasim. “They have been brilliant and shown a real commitment to coming back to Pakistan as soon as possible. We are just taking small steps now towards the objective of hosting that tour in 2022.”
With international cricket back in Pakistan, another objective is achieved. But Wasim still has plenty on his plate – and that, despite all the pressure and opprobrium, is just the way he likes it.
“In any high-profile job you are going to get criticism and it’s fair to say I get my fair share,” he said. “But I arrived here without any political baggage and a lot of people respect that. I just want to do the best for Pakistan cricket and if that means taking some tough decisions along the way then so be it.
“It is mentally draining but my family is out here with me which is really important and I’m loving it. There is so much to do – the cricket, the politics, the diplomacy. I think I’ve got the most interesting job in the world!”