June 3, 2014

Isn't it time Pakistanis were in the IPL?

There were reasons for why the two countries stopped playing each other, but they aren't all that valid anymore

Azhar Mahmood has played in the IPL thanks to his dual passport © BCCI

The recently concluded IPL was capped by a final where the winning team chased down 200 runs quite comfortably. So let me begin this blog by planting my first marker right here: this wouldn't have happened had there been some Pakistani bowlers around.

I am not being entirely facetious here. The top three T20I wicket-takers of all time are active Pakistani players, and three Pakistani bowlers currently sit in the ICC's top ten for the format.

This year's tournament was the only time in five events that Pakistan's bowling failed to carry its misfiring batting to a WT20 semi-final (or better). And the only home ODI series India have lost in close to five years (and ten series; 11 if you include the last World Cup) is when Pakistan's attack came for a visit. Pakistani bowlers are some of the best in T20s, and they are some of the best when it comes to bowling in India.

It's a realisation that doesn't seem to have been completely lost on IPL teams. Both the iconic Ws of Pakistan's '90s are coaches in the IPL, with Wasim coaching the current champions and Waqar handling Dale Steyn and Co. for the Hyderabad Sunrisers. Dual-passport holder Azhar Mahmood has clocked several seasons, while the hapless Delhi side even brought in Imran Tahir for this edition, a Lahori leg-spinner who was similarly drafted in by a hapless South Africa side not too long ago.

Yet for six years now, the IPL has continued to do without Pakistani bowlers or batsmen (we don't mind them skipping on the wicketkeepers; we'd like to do the same). After an initial ban following the ghastly and tragic Mumbai attacks in 2008, Pakistani players were brought into the 2010 auction but went unsold. That frankly humiliating situation has now gone on since then.

There are two main reasons given for this exclusion, the first of which is security. This claim, which began with authentic concerns, feels largely ridiculous now. Apart from the four mentioned above, Ramiz Raja and Shoaib Akhtar have both been commentating through the IPL, and Pakistani umpires have been involved as well. Since there have been no issues with any of these people, it does sound odd to claim that similar security can't be provided to any Pakistani players playing for an IPL side. Moreover, since the attacks, a number of Pakistani actors and singers have made it to Indian screens, while a host of Pakistani writers and poets have been populating the region's many literature festivals, and yet the cricketers are still kept out.

The second reason given for the exclusion of Pakistani players is more sensitive and more wide-ranging. The ban/embargo on Pakistani players occurred as a direct consequence of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Since those attacks took place, the two states of India and Pakistan have continued to have differences on the prosecution of the perpetrators. In that context, it is understandable how the implicit ban on Pakistani cricketers could be part of a wider reality. Yet, with all due respect, even this claim rings slightly hollow now that a Pakistani side has already toured India once, and more importantly, now that the two countries' cricket boards have begun discussions on hosting no fewer than six bilateral series over the next nine years.

If anything, the presence of the Pakistani team in India held greater symbolic value than individual cricketers playing in the IPL would, and experience has shown that it went off without a hitch. Perhaps the greatest possible symbolic obstacle was overcome when India's new prime minister, whose campaign promised a tough stance with Islamabad, invited his Pakistani counterpart to be present at his swearing-in. If Indian and Pakistani politicians can make meet but the countries' cricketers can't on the field, then there is something very wrong with the world.

What truly puzzles me is that beyond the excuses, the decision makes little sporting, and consequently financial, sense.

Last week, thanks to two Indians who are supposedly Test cricket fans, I learned of Branch Rickey. The American owner of a baseball team, Rickey became famous for (amongst several other reasons) breaking Major League Baseball's colour barrier by signing the African American player Jackie Robinson. While his act carried enormous political and cultural weight, at the heart of its motivations was the simple fact that Robinson was a terrific player. In his first season, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award as his team went all the way to the World Series finals. As a contemporary later recalled, Rickey's decision "was born out of a combination of idealism and astute business sense".

Given the IPL's teams are run by some of India's most celebrated corporates, and have the finances to hoover up talent from around the world, one wonders how long they can continue to persist with a business decision as terrible as the one to exclude Pakistani players. If they do sign some up, the significant cultural and economic common ground between the two countries means that endorsements, sponsorships and other commercial link-ups would exploit both the Pakistani and Indian markets.

The move would also likely generate the same sort of PR boost that politicians and actors, among others, have recently received due to cross-border cooperation. But most significantly, signing Pakistani players would mean more wins, more fans, more money. When it comes to the bottom line, Pakistani players are a significant asset to have on the side.

To be fair, it can be argued that the mood has been slow to change, and the notoriously fickle India-Pakistan relations continue to be unreliable. In that light, it is understandable that team owners might feel apprehensive. But I genuinely feel that the time for us to move on has arrived.

So, for what might be the only time in my life, let me sum up by paraphrasing a famous Ronald Regan quote: "Mr Srinivasan - tear down this wall!"

Ahmer Naqvi is a journalist, writer and teacher. He writes on cricket for various publications, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 8, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Ahmer Naqvi - Genius but "correctly said" usually loses. You lost it again mate. This is not the general feeling of the Pakistani fan apart of the few percentage who are so eager for the IPL. And as for experience, I would prefer that our batsmen, like our bowlers, should go for the county cricket, which would help them better their techniques against moving ball.

  • Zsam on June 7, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    Team owners have a set amount to splurge on recruiting players both foreign and local. If they were to invest in a Pakistani player and that player is unable to play when required due to security concerns, if and when that happens, as we all know how fickle Indo-Pak ties are, then that investor has lost that amount, which he could have better utilized, had he bought a player from another country; in such a scenario. This is the crux of the problem. And not any govt directive. GoI can decide whatever, but the auction limit ensures that team owners will try to maximize their player engagement and not risk it on players from countries whose availability is beyond their ambit.

  • Android on June 6, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    Pakistan toured India in December 2012 and there is technically no ban on including Pakistani players in the auction list. It is the mindset of the team owners which is preventing the participation of the talented players from across the border. The IPL teams could do with some of the Pakistani bowlers because the current bowling standard of the IPL leaves much to be desired. Junaid Khan Umar Gul Mohammad Irfan Sohail Tanvir Shahid Afridi Mohammad Hafeez Saeed Ajmal Umar Akmal Misbah ul Haq and a few others should command a good price and add a lot of value to the various teams.

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2014, 6:35 GMT

    @ samincolumbia on (June 5, 2014, 17:46 GMT) : Pakistan didn't play India only in WC :) just look at whole records o win-loss-ratio :) you'll learn that Pakistan is ahead of India.. Don't show ignorance.. As for this article : Well written but Ajmal, Junaid, hafeez, Malik Afridi, Sohail tanvir are participating in different leagues around the world. If IPL doesn't allow our players than it doesn't matter. :) I, being a Pakistani, am OKAY with it. Ajmal, Junaid playing county would get much better rather than playing T20 in IPL :)

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    yes u can hv services of pakistani legends Wasim n Waqar, u take Ramiz n Akhtar as experts, Aleem dar as umpire, u dnt hv any security problems fr them, bt u hv it fr pakistani players... lol..this is rediculous.

  • Dummy4 on June 5, 2014, 18:59 GMT

    @Sehriyar Mallik, when nobody in the world wants to come to Pakistan for an International series where far better security would be feasible than what would happen for a private tournament, what makes you think players from other countries will be comfortable playing in PCB's league ? Also - with IPL taking 6 weeks out of the Cricket calendar AND boards greedily looking to fill up the rest, where is the window for PCB's T20 league ?

  • Hamza on June 5, 2014, 18:17 GMT

    Of all the non-Indian players, you have got to admit that Afridi is the most marketable player with a worldwide fan-base. If the IPL teams were allowed to pick Pakistani players, surely he would be easily picked. It would be pretty easy for Umar Akmal and Saeed Ajmal to find a team. So the IPL teams can benefit from having these sort of players.

  • Sammy on June 5, 2014, 17:46 GMT

    IPL does not need Pakistani players! If the Pakistani bowlers are so good, how come they have yet to win a single ODI and T20 game against India in a World Cup ever?

  • Dummy4 on June 5, 2014, 13:37 GMT

    Saed Ajmal and maybe Afridi I dont see an Indian team picking up Hafeez. This is a good tournament without Pakistan. It is a lose more Pakistan than India. As for tearing down the wall how about as a goodwill gesture your government hands over Dawood?

  • Shane on June 5, 2014, 13:36 GMT

    @siddhartha87 - what an absurd comment. Afridi is one of the best T20 players in the world. You must be wearing some serious blinkers to not admit that, and the only thing that would stop franchises from hiring him would be stubbornness.

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