The IPL's decision to suspend Pakistan cricketers from next year's competition can only be bad for the game.
A solution must be found
It is hard not to feel sorry for some of the biggest names in Pakistan cricket after they had their Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts suspended through no fault of their own. The IPL commissioner Lalit Modi explained the decision last week in a rather confusing way. It is a fact the players did not submit their paperwork on time and it remains unclear whether they will take any part in the third instalment of the lucrative Twenty20 competition.
"The players will be kept in suspension as they have not fulfilled their obligations," he said in a statement released to the cricket website Cricinfo. "The current suspended players cannot go to the auction. But they will be available to the franchises as replacements if they have a spot." The cynics insist that all of this is being done due to a campaign within the Indian corridors of power to keep their neighbours, with whom they do not enjoy a great relationship, as far away as possible far from any sort of cricketing action. The decision comes after Pakistan lost the rights to host matches for the 2011 World Cup.
But if cricketing logic is applied the IPL should be boosted by the presence of Pakistan's star players. Batsmen and bowlers produced there are famous for their flair and ability to keep the turnstiles ticking over. Shoaib Akhtar may be a less powerful figure in Pakistan cricket than he once was but he still has the pulling power to fill the stands. The people who run the Kolkata Knight Riders will vouch for that after what they saw at Eden Gardens when Shoaib was in full flow during the inaugural IPL tournament in 2008.
Pakistan cricketers contribute immensely to a special event and the Indian crowds will be disappointed not to see the likes of Sohail Tanvir (Rajasthan Royals), Kamran Akmal, Misbah-ul-Haq (Royal Challengers Bangalore), Salman Butt and Umar Gul (both Kolkata Knight Riders) back again and competing. Apart from Shoaib and the other players mentioned, the 2008 event also saw the participation of Shahid Afridi (Deccan Chargers) and Shoaib Malik (Delhi Daredevils).
Pakistan have traditionally always fielded a supremely talented team no matter how much in-fighting goes on before they cross the boundary rope; a side capable of brilliance one moment and the ridiculous the next. It is this that underlines their influence on the paying public. At this crucial hour it should not be about international rivalry but what is good for the game and spectators will be worse off without Pakistan's finest.
The wounds from the militant attacks on Mumbai in 2008 still run deep and the wounds do not heal easily, but terrorists cannot claim to belong to any section of society. That Indian and Pakistan cricket players get on famously well is a tool that should be used to flush out all prejudices once and for all. Terrorism cannot break down friendships and camaraderie. In the DVD Cricket in the 70s, the former England captain Tony Greig remembers an incident in which India and Pakistan players, who played in the same 1971/72 Rest of the World team as him in Australia, were seen together in a dressing room listening to the radio to get their share of news back home. Their countries were at war with each other, yet players from both nations were gelling and playing in the same team.
Back to the IPL. Sure, the franchises cannot wait forever for Pakistan cricketers to join their teams, but the authorities have to display some level of patience for formalities to be completed, something which is not entirely in the players' hands. I can't help visualising problems when it comes to the Pakistanis visiting certain cities in India. No voices were raised when Afridi came over to play his Deccan Chargers' match against Mumbai Indians at the DY Patil Stadium in New Mumbai in 2008.
Pakistanis have not been welcome in India's commercial capital for a while now, so it was a major surprise that no one stirred up trouble. Afridi was quoted in an Indian newspaper recently saying that, despite all hurdles, he was confident the governing council would somehow pave the way for players from Pakistan to participate next year. Well, the council includes some of the biggest names in Indian cricket: Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. They were all hard competitors when it came to playing the game, but were fair with it.
India's neighbours should expect them to come up with a solution that will be good for a tournament, that has excited the sporting world. Modi may have a horde of critics, but most them will concede that his product has proven to be a winner thus far. It would be interesting to see how many teams bid for Pakistan players in the auction should a resolution be found. In my opinion a good buy would be Umar Akmal, the brother of Kamran. Umar has batted superbly in New Zealand during their tour where pitches are not exactly flat and the ball moves a fair bit in the air and off the seam.
The former India batting stalwart Sanjay Manjrekar liked what he saw of the 19-year-old. The television commentator is reported to be a big fan of Umar, saying he was the most talented batsman to emerge from Pakistan. Umar's a clean hitter of the ball and Manjrekar is not a man known to hyperbole. Clayton Murzello is the group sports editor of the Indian newspaper Midday. firstname.lastname@example.org