The UAE has been home to Pakistan cricket for more than five years. They have played 76 international matches here since 2006, and there has been no indication that will change. Yet the Pakistan players are excluded from the biggest cricket event the UAE has hosted.
Pakistani cricket players standing on outside and still looking in at IPL
It is one thing to have to perform while in forced exile from your home – that has been difficult enough for Pakistan – but that can only be compounded by being exiled from your home in exile.
That effectively is what the UAE’s hosting of the seventh Indian Premier League (IPL) means for Pakistan’s players.
The UAE has been their home for more than five years. They have played 76 international matches here since 2006, and there has been no indication that will change.
Yet the Pakistan players are excluded from the biggest cricket event the UAE has hosted.
That has been standard policy in every IPL season, apart from the first in which 11 Pakistani cricketers played.
It has become an annual ritual.
As auction time approaches, people start to wonder whether Pakistan’s cricketers will be in it.
Players and officials from Pakistan will make some noises about wanting to be involved, and a board or franchise official from India will express, in the most guarded way, an interest in taking them on.
Then it will emerge they have not been included in the auction list, which will prompt outrage, although that is less each year it happens and becomes more normal.
This year it was the turn of Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain, Mohammad Hafeez, to have a little pop.
“It is strange that for years now Pakistani players have not been allowed to play in the IPL because it is a world-class league and there is so much to learn from it,” he told the Express newspaper.
“I played in the first season of the IPL and I got a chance to share the dressing room with greats like Sourav Ganguly and Ricky Ponting and it was a great learning experience. I believe that what our players are missing out the most is this aspect of playing in the IPL.”
Certainly it is hard to believe that there would not have been demand for players of the calibre of Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, and Ahmed Shehzad had they been available to the eight franchises to select.
Then, by the time the tournament is to begin, the Pakistan absence is forgotten. It continues to be one of the biggest blots on the IPL.
The most aggravating aspect of this is that it is still not clear why they continue to be left out of the most lucrative league in cricket.
When they missed out in 2009, after having made a successful impact in 2008, it was understood.
The terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 and the subsequent chill in political and diplomatic ties between the two countries meant it was inevitable Pakistani players would not be there.
It is worth pointing out that, although some were included in the auction that year, it was the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) that refused to let them play.
A few years later, after he had been deposed, former commissioner Lalit Modi claimed that the Indian board had arm-twisted franchises into not picking Pakistani players that season.
Since then it has only got more confusing. In 2010, there seemed to be the will from both countries to make it happen. Despite delays, necessary government clearances were obtained. Names were included in the auction.
All, however, went unsold.
That was a particularly stinging rebuke to Pakistan. Their players had won the World Twenty20 the previous June and could justifiably be considered among the best in the world. They talked of being humiliated, and that was echoed by Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood star who owns the Kolkata Knight Riders.
“I think it is actually humiliating to me as a KKR owner that this has happened,” he said.
“We are known to be good, we are known to invite everyone and we should have, and if there were any issues they should have been put out earlier so that everything could happen respectfully.
“I truly believe that they should have been chosen. As a matter of fact, I’m not going to be the one who is opposite from what everyone else is saying but I wanted Abdul Razzaq.
“I think it was in the newspapers much earlier than even the auction started. Dada [Sourav Ganguly] was very keen.”
So why did they go unsold? In all likelihood, as some other franchise owners hinted at the time, it was a cold, hard, business decision.
Franchises may have wanted Pakistan players but – given the kind of political issues between the two countries – baulked at investing in one for what might have been three years.
What would happen to the investment, owners asked, if ties between the countries completely broke down and players were not allowed to come to India?
There seems to have been no movement since.
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials have often said there is no government bar on Pakistani players participating in the IPL. To support that is the fact that Pakistan played a bilateral one-day series in India at the end of 2012.
This year the PCB chairman, Najam Sethi, said the BCCI had told him to take the matter up at government level.
What makes it more confounding is that the exclusion only affects the players. Over the years, Kolkata Knight Riders and Hyderabad Sunrisers have appointed Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis as bowling coaches. Both Aleem Dar and Asad Rauf have stood as umpires, as recently as last season. Ramiz Raja has been a member of the commentary team.
The emergence of the Big Bash League in Australia, the Caribbean Premier League, England’s NatWest T20 Blast has at least allowed alternative opportunities for Pakistan’s players.
Last year Cricket South Africa announced they would recruit Pakistan’s players in their new Twenty20 tournament and the PCB is also trying to launch a franchise-based Twenty20 league.
These options should lessen the financial hit from not taking part in the IPL and maybe a little of the indignity.
But that is only relative. The lucrativeness of the IPL dwarfs all other leagues and Pakistan’s players are among the least well-remunerated; the spot-fixing scandal of 2010 was widely thought to be a partial corollary of constantly missing out on the IPL.
It is not just the money, of course. The benefits of playing in high-pressure environments in front of massive crowds have largely passed by Pakistan’s younger players.
They have also missed out on the sense of global fraternity the IPL bestows even with the advent of the leagues in other countries.
Added to the exile from home, exile from the IPL has only deepened the Pakistani cricketer’s sense of isolation and alienation.
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