Rambo enters the Game of Thrones

Hasan Jafri
Tuesday, Sep 14, 2021

Ramiz Hasan Raja aka Rambo has formally been anointed chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. The voting formality caps the 59-year-old’s four decades engagement in cricket as an age-group player, opening batsman, skipper, administrator and global commentator.

Rambo won’t have to wait long for his first fight. First blood has already been drawn with the controversial team selection for the T20 World Cup. It’s not his team. It doesn’t appear to be Chief Selector Mohamad Wasim’s team. No one knows whose team it is. Head Coach Misbah ul Haq and his co-slinger Waqar Younis have resigned and in this Game of Thrones, more heads will soon roll, and many more battles are to come.

Why is Rambo the new boss of Pakistan cricket? What does he bring to the table? And what can he realistically deliver?

Kaptaan’s Fan-in-Chief

There is no doubt Rambo has the job because of his close association with and complete admiration for Prime Minister Imran Khan.Many cricketers have backed the former skipper, especially those who had the good fortune of playing with him. But Ramiz has taken his loyalty to the next level. No one articulates life’s philosophy better than Kaptaan, Rambo tweeted last year.

Rambo is there to raise funds for Kaptaan’s pet charities. He lends his face and voice for Kaptaan’s pet social and economic policies. He backs Kaptaan’s plans to fight Covid-19 even when the plans were not working. Ramiz does not stop there. He’s by Kaptaan’s side when Kaptaan takes on the political opposition. Ramiz won’t give a “flying duck” about forwarding a fake photo to embarrass the Sindh government. He’d even visualize Kaptaan taking on Maulana Fazlur Rehman with three bouncers followed by a vicious inswinging yorker. Even Shahid Afridi has his limits.

Kaptaan probably sees Rambo as mini-me. Educated, middle class elite from Lahore. A man with a sense of style, comfortable being around women. A cricketer conversant in English, Urdu and crass Punjabi humor. Ramiz also has a strong sense of Pakistani nationalism, of Quaid’s Pakistan, a Pakistan safe for women and religious minorities and a progressive Pakistan.In a cricketing culture filled with religion and religious symbolism, Rambo keeps his cricketing and faith apart.

Mr. Marketing Man

Ramiz is more than Kaptaan’s No. 1 fanboy. He’s a successful brand. He’s not waiting for handouts or betting on his team. “Ramiz Raja Pte Ltd.” has been patiently and purposefully built over the last two decades.Quite mutable (like his friend Sanjay Manjrekar), Ramiz is still the default No. 1 choice English-language ex-cricketer commentator from Pakistan. When social media came along, Ramiz got in too. Today he has millions of followers across various platforms. He can talk cricket in English or Urdu. He can join fans to talk about it too. He even has animated cricket training videos. He can even do cheesy thumbs up for a PCB promo video. And he knows talking about India is a sure-win formula for social media success.

Like everyone else attempting to earn an honest living via social media, Ramiz knows how to do it well. And he knows brand equity.As soon word got out that he’ll be joining the PCB Board, Rambo (or socials minders) developed the self-awareness to clean up the platforms of content that may damage his brand equity. Chest-thumping, Rambo admitted, was not good

Execute Kaptaan’s Game Plan

Kaptaan adores being adored. But he’s also quite mission driven. Rambo must turn Pakistan into a modern cricketing powerhouse and reform domestic cricket. Ehsan Mani and his team began the process, Rambo must finish the job.

Where rubber hits the road, Rambo’s exposure and understanding of modern cricket and his close ties with the international cricketing fraternity is to Pakistan’s benefit. Ramiz has consistently argued that Pakistan needs to move forward – and with a plan.

That plan may include again hiring international coaches (how about Mahela Jayawardena and Steve Rixon), improving fitness and mental strength and developing domestic training programs more suited to the 21st century brand of cricket. In white ball cricket, he wants a focus on strike rates not preserving wickets, on playing attacking, passionate cricket.As such, Ramiz will be good for young talent who otherwise will be soon dumped in the junkyard of Pakistan cricket. Players such as Haider Ali, Abdullah Shafiq, Usman Qadir and Shahnawaz Dahani can sure use some TLC from the very top.

As much as Ramiz is a fan of red-ball cricket, he’ll pay quite close attention to the white-ball formats too. Red ball cricket feeds the soul, white ball fills the coffers. To successfully execute Kaptaan’s domestic plan, Ramiz is painfully aware that without money, the new domestic plan is as dead as the eight-team regional structure introduced during Ramiz’s short-lived tenure as PCB’s chief executive in 2003. That structure didn’t survive.

As much exposure that Ramiz has to international cricket, he hardly has any at home. He’s never coached a team at any level and his last administrative appointment was when today’s stars were crawling in diapers. That tour with the PCB ended in controversy about a clear financial conflict of interest, an unnecessary and public panngawith Shoaib Akhtar allegedly feigning injury (subsequent medical tests proved he was injured) and an embarrassing loss to India at home.

Ramiz not only lack domestic management experience he also may not have enough friends at home who can help him build consensus around what is arguable a near-impossible ask. If Sarfaraz Nawaz – a man who struggles to put two syllables together – can write an entire letter opposing Ramiz’s appointment, far more vicious critics are waiting for him to walk into the dark alleys.

Like Kaptaan, Ramiz believes the new domestic structure will produce better cricketers in the long run. But as of today, the new system has left hundreds of cricketers and associated personnel with little in their pockets and thrown the entire system in disarray.

On his social media, Ramiz has identified the secret sauce for success: He wants good administrators at lower levels; he wants 1st class home and away games at city level; he loves good pitches, and he wants to open the domestic system to overseas players (how about Rashid Khan playing for Sindh?).

Whatever great or limited contributions Ramiz makes he knows time will not be on his side. Just two years ago, Misbah was the savior of Pakistan cricket. Today Misbah is persona non grata and Ramiz is the man. Tomorrow someone else will take his place on the throne.

All the best, Rambo. You’ll need it.