Reigniting cricket in Zim: Hasnain’s challenge

Faisal Hasnain

Faisal Hasnain

FAISAL Hasnain has been doing a bit of reading. He’s started with The Good Murungu, Alan Butcher’s account of coming to Zimbabwe as an outsider to coach the national team, and hopes other titles will follow when time allows.

Since his early days as the ICC’s Chief Financial Officer Hasnain has found himself intricately involved with Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), attempting to unravel the tangled wool of their finances, and now he is trying to gain a greater understanding of the country he will call home.

Hasnain spent years in high-up jobs at Citi Group before joining the ICC, where he has travelled extensively. But his time in Zimbabwe — first conducting the infamous KPMG audit in 2006, then constructing a bailout plan in 2013 — was an eye-opener.

“During that time I started to understand a little bit from the inside the state of the economy in which ZC is operating,” he told Cricbuzz. “I don’t know if it’s been done before, but it would be a great case study — how the finances of Zimbabwe actually run. I think it would be an absolute classic if it was done as a thesis. I was absolutely amazed that the country was running the way it was.”

For all its faults, Zimbabwe remains a charming place. Through his dealings with the country, Hasnain says he developed “perhaps not a soft spot, but certainly an affiliation with ZC”. Towards the end of 2016 he was asked by ZC chairman Tawengwa Mukuhlani to do some consulting work for the organisation, which he did with the ICC’s blessing. A couple of months in, Mukuhlani wondered if he might consider a full-time role as managing director.

“It was not an easy decision,” says Hasnain. “There is no doubt that it will be a big challenge, but that is why I took the job. One of the attractions was that it is something that has a lot of potential.”

That “challenge” cannot be underestimated, but at least Hasnain has not walked into it blindly. ZC are currently $20m in debt, with most of it owed to local banks at eye watering interest rates. The financial problems have seen the domestic season continually interrupted, and their international fixtures diminish with each passing year. Qualification for the next World Cup, so important for both the money and exposure, looks to be a tough ask with the top Associates closing in.

Last year, after being fired as coach, Dav Whatmore’s parting shot was to predict that Zimbabwe would follow the path of Kenya. It was difficult to disagree. Most of the cricket world has given up on Zimbabwe.

“I think I know where the problems lie,” says Hasnain. “You have to change that entire culture within ZC — change the way the finances are run, the governing structures, the cricketing structure both domestically as well as internationally. We can start by making progress on all those fronts.

“It’s almost got to be starting with a blank sheet of paper and saying, ‘Okay, how would we like ZC to be organised in terms of the secretariat? What should be the structure?’ Similarly on the domestic side – again a clean sheet of paper, and looking at best practice. How do we benchmark ourselves with the Australian domestic season — or the English or Indian domestic seasons?

“No doubt the financial situation is the biggest obstacle we are facing, but if over the next three to four months we are able to somehow reach an understanding with the banks, the ICC and other member boards, we can then plan our finances accordingly and see how we can spend money in the areas where they can be spent – mainly in order to improve the performances of the team.”

The “understanding” relates to discussions with the ICC over a bailout package that could release ZC from its high-interest debts. Were that to happen, Hasnain says ZC can return to the black within three years, even if it fails to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

Many might ask whether ZC deserves such a chance, given the way in which it has handled its financial affairs. The past seven years have seen wasteful over-expenditure by administrators with conflicts of interest, and the misuse of an ICC loan.

But there are reasons to be more positive now. Those administrators have all moved on, and there appears to be a genuine desire to turn things around. The very fact that someone like Hasnain – an experienced financial man with independence from the local cricket politics – has been allowed in to look behind ZC’s veil suggests a willingness to transform.

His arrival coincides with the appointment of a new chief financial officer in the form of Feroza Shariff, a Zimbabwean with experience in local banking institutions. She replaces Ester Lupepe, who left ZC at the end of 2016 amidst allegations that she was behind the botched audit which embarrassed ZC last year. Since her departure, ZC’s internal auditing has been done by a reputable accounting firm in Bulawayo. “Hiring an outside firm to do the internal audit gives a little independence,” notes Hasnain, “and the reports they have issued have been good. Again it’s a step that shows ZC is trying to identify and address the problems that are taking place internally.

“ZC has made moves which suggest it is trying to turn a corner and leave certain things behind,” he adds. “Bringing back Heath Streak and Tatenda Taibu, employing people like Makhaya (Ntini) and myself. I also attended a strategy session in January which I thought was run very well. The board and the management, the coaches and technical team all seem to be committed to moving forward, which is one of the reasons why I was willing to take the job.

Without that it would be impossible for an outsider like myself to come in and run the organisation.”

While turning the finances around is Hasnain’s primary focus off the field, qualification for the next World Cup is his main focus on it. The two objectives marry somewhat in ZC’s bid to host the World Cup qualifiers next year, now that Bangladesh, the original hosts, look destined to qualify automatically.

An ICC official will make an informal visit to Zimbabwe at the end of May to inspect facilities and provide feedback on what might need improvement. A decision on who will host the event will likely be taken at the ICC’s AGM next month, with Ireland and Scotland the other main contenders. Hasnain sees it as an opportunity to reignite the game in Zimbabwe and harness some goodwill from government and other stakeholders.

In the longer term, Zimbabwe’s fortunes are tied to the new structures being discussed at the ICC. The new finance structure that was voted through last month would increase ZC’s income between 2015 and 2023 by around $30m from what it received in the previous eight-year cycle, and could be $20m more than it would have received under the so-called Big Three model.

On the playing side, a new ODI league should provide the guaranteed regular game time that the national team so desperately needs. The new Test league is still to be confirmed, with ZC voicing its opposition to a demotion that would no longer allow it to compete with the other nine full members.

“We felt very strongly that as a full member we should be given the opportunity to play Test cricket with other full members as part of a structured programme,” says Hasnain. “For ZC to effectively be downgraded, that would not go down well with our board or with the sports ministry, so we obviously opposed. What we were hoping was to be given the opportunity to play against top-ranked teams, or at the very least, mid-ranked teams in order to improve ourselves and motivate our players. As it is they are not playing enough cricket, and something like this could lead to even less Test cricket.

“We put our feelings forward in the form of a comprehensive document to the ICC in which we gave our reasons and rationale for taking the arguments we have. In fairness to the ICC, it’s not something they can just implement without a lot of consultation. We had two scheduling meetings (last month) and tried to work out what the potential structure and playing patterns would look like. It’s still a work in progress. Each board has its own individual issues.

But ZC felt that it cannot compromise on Zimbabwe’s cricketing interests.”

Hasnain will take up residence in the country from May 15, having spent his first weeks in the new job working from home in Dubai. He arrives at a time that is pivotal in world game, but especially so in Zimbabwe. Given the state of the country and its cricket, if he helps to turn things around then he will likely have a good book in him.

— Cricbuzz

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