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
36

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 :)

  • 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.

  • 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 ?

  • hamza18 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.

  • samincolumbia 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?

  • 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-oh 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 :)

  • 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.

  • 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 ?

  • hamza18 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.

  • samincolumbia 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?

  • 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-oh 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.

  • Nadeem1976 on June 5, 2014, 12:53 GMT

    Pakistanis must be allowed to play in IPL. It's shame that you can play as Pakistani English player but not direct from Pakistan.

  • on June 5, 2014, 12:19 GMT

    I think Pakistanis players should stay away from IPL. There is nothing to gain for the experienced players and junior players are not going to get picked. Also, India is the home of illegal betting. I am afraid for Pakistani players. They will be dragged into betting and it will bring more shame to our cricket team. Stay away from IPL, Pakistani players. You are not dying of hunger and there are other avenues for t20 such as Aus, Eng, SA, etc.

  • on June 5, 2014, 3:53 GMT

    Ahmer. Pakistan is better off not playing the IPL. Strategically our players remain a mystery and that helps Pakistan cricket. I understand that the Pakistani players themselves feel that they are not being allowed to make a substantial amount of money and are denied the exposure of playing in a multicultural setting.

    It is upto the PCB to start Pakistan's own premier T20 tournament to allow Pakistani players the opportunity to get that exposure and also to make a fair amount of money. If security is a hurdle they should have a short sharp tournament in the UAE for starters. Then see where it goes.

  • mrjanjua on June 4, 2014, 16:20 GMT

    K Damodar Nair you are very verity wrong. There is plenty of exiting new talent new the Pakistani team especially the bowling. Over the past few years there has been Junaid,Irfan, Shezad,Sharjeel, Baber.

  • on June 4, 2014, 13:00 GMT

    I would like to disagree with the writer, the combination of 4 foreign players suit development of Indian Players, I would prefer to watch Aussie ,South African &West Indies players rather than subcontinental foreign players among the 4 allowed foreign players.

    Moreover Pakistani Player quality has gone down with no new exciting talent worth seeing , please do not mix politics with sports as some senior wisemen from Pakistan keep saying, diplomacy has no part in enjoying IPL.

    So let us continue the status quo!

  • on June 4, 2014, 10:44 GMT

    NO THANKS MR.NAQVI ...I can categorically say that pakistani bowlers are better without IPL(but maybe not the batsmen).

  • Anami12 on June 4, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    "After an initial ban following the ghastly and tragic Mumbai attacks in 2008"... Eh? The ban was by Pakistan, not by India, the BCCI or the franchises.

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ipl2009/content/story/388728.html

    There is a lot of difference between a Pakistani player and a member of the support staff or an umpire. If there is a Indo-Pak problem, the support staff can be made to stay in the hotel or the umpire can be replaced. It would not be possible to order the franchise not to select a player.

    The franchises pay an arm and a leg for security and if it has to be increased for a Pakistani player, it is only natural that they think twice. However, it is true that the time has come for a rethink on the part of the IPL. Let's see if it happens.

  • on June 4, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    As a different point of view, I think Pak bowlers are good in T20I BECAUSE they do not play IPL. See what happened to Dale steyn, MJ, Morkel, Ashwin, ...the more you play, the less mystery you carry. In fact Pak is benefitting more by the decision to not let their players play in IPL. As for us, barring Afridi, Umar akmal and maybe gul, none others are exciting to watch (only from IPL perspective). And we are happy and contend to watch maxwells, millers, pollards and our domestic fireworks. I personally dont feel the urge to see pak players in IPL. If they are allowed, its good, if not, equally good.

  • on June 4, 2014, 8:16 GMT

    Should have a Pakistani and Srilankan team in IPL making it an international tournament

  • Ramesh_Joseph on June 4, 2014, 7:56 GMT

    No thanks. The IPL is doing well enough without Pakistani players. After all this is an Indian domestic league and the franchisees can choose whom thay want.

  • on June 4, 2014, 6:22 GMT

    While I am doubtful about Pakistani batsmen being in demand , that is , if Pakistani players are allowed to play in the IPL, their bowlers will surely be in demand. And I loved the line " we don't mind them skipping on the wicketkeepers; we'd like to do the same".

  • siddhartha87 on June 4, 2014, 3:35 GMT

    If Pakistani players are allowed to play only Ajmal will be sold for a big price (may be record breaking).From other players Afridi will be sold but I am pretty sure he is not good enough to feature regularly in any team.

  • Zahidsaltin on June 3, 2014, 23:50 GMT

    I really don't understand that how does it help cricket in Pakistan if a few pak players are allowed to play IPL. Yes the individuals make some money but what else. Actually it is india which needs it most to bring Afridi, Mohammad Irfan, Ajmal and some others to revive their product IPL. IPL has a lesser appeal today than it had some 5 years ago and like all their products, you need to develope your product every 3-4 years.

  • on June 3, 2014, 21:11 GMT

    Seriously is this even a concern? We should play county cricket more then ipl. Built batsman instead of sluggers. Can we be anymore money hungry then we already are?

  • gandabhai on June 3, 2014, 21:11 GMT

    I would love to see the talented pakistanis playing in the IPL, trouble is, there was a bit, wasn't there ? Thats unfortunately why they havn't been there recently.

  • jd_ghy on June 3, 2014, 19:57 GMT

    Sorry Mr. Naqvi IPL is doing fine without the participation of Pakistani players and will continue to do so without the participation of players like Afridi, Ajmal, Gul etc. And as far as Pakistani players getting a chance to earn some desperately needed extra money then there several other T20 leagues around the world where they can sell their wares. In India NADA.

  • Sandeep.Jain on June 3, 2014, 19:29 GMT

    Self Respect is bigger than Entertainment

  • on June 3, 2014, 16:31 GMT

    They should be friend again

  • AltafPatel on June 3, 2014, 13:57 GMT

    It will be fantastic to watch when Pak players allowed to play in IPL. As Gavaskar is interim president of BCCI, we can hope positive decisions.

  • BRUTALANALYST on June 3, 2014, 13:46 GMT

    Ipl should allow 5 overseas to give even more star attraction this still means majority of side is Indian but just adds extra value. Players like Shezad Umar Akmal Afridi Ajmal Junaid Irfan would all be great to see in the IPL.

  • ImonG on June 3, 2014, 13:13 GMT

    I completely agree with Mr. Naqvi that Pakistan have some of the best T20 bowlers in Ajmal, Gul etc. I also hope & feel that one day or the other, we will surely see them play in IPL. They have played before, the likes of Sohail Tanveer, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohd Hafeez & Shahid Afridi, and are fantastic to watch. But on a personal level, I would prefer the relations to be a little better on an overall aspect before they are included. Security & Economic concerns of both the countries have to have some progress before this "highly symbolic but not very important practically" step is taken. The Prime Ministers meeting up is a start, if things progress over all, surely then. Till then, Thanks a lot. We in India really don't mind. Wounds in both sides of the border have to heal, that's how both the countries will progress, but some things do take time. Rushing them is not always the brightest idea.

  • on June 3, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    How on earth you would not like to see the long hitting of Afridi, the magician Saeed Ajmal, the tallest fast bolwer Irfan and the accurate Guldozer.

  • on June 3, 2014, 12:56 GMT

    Ajmal and Afridi definitely should be involved. The rest of the Pakistanis probably wouldn't even get chosen.

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on June 3, 2014, 10:59 GMT

    As a neutral I also hope to see more of the Pakistani stars playing outside of the UAE and the IPL is a good place to start. Apart from cricket and business reasons, with a bit of vision I believe cricket can be a conduit for building trust, unity and tolerance within Pakistan and with others.

  • Srini_CricBrain on June 3, 2014, 10:55 GMT

    "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."

    I believe that reality is what is preventing Pakistan players from being part of IPL

  • on June 3, 2014, 10:38 GMT

    On a purely cricketing entertainment level, it is certainly true that the IPL would be enhanced by the presence of Shahid Afridi, for one.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on June 3, 2014, 10:38 GMT

    On a purely cricketing entertainment level, it is certainly true that the IPL would be enhanced by the presence of Shahid Afridi, for one.

  • Srini_CricBrain on June 3, 2014, 10:55 GMT

    "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."

    I believe that reality is what is preventing Pakistan players from being part of IPL

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on June 3, 2014, 10:59 GMT

    As a neutral I also hope to see more of the Pakistani stars playing outside of the UAE and the IPL is a good place to start. Apart from cricket and business reasons, with a bit of vision I believe cricket can be a conduit for building trust, unity and tolerance within Pakistan and with others.

  • on June 3, 2014, 12:56 GMT

    Ajmal and Afridi definitely should be involved. The rest of the Pakistanis probably wouldn't even get chosen.

  • on June 3, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    How on earth you would not like to see the long hitting of Afridi, the magician Saeed Ajmal, the tallest fast bolwer Irfan and the accurate Guldozer.

  • ImonG on June 3, 2014, 13:13 GMT

    I completely agree with Mr. Naqvi that Pakistan have some of the best T20 bowlers in Ajmal, Gul etc. I also hope & feel that one day or the other, we will surely see them play in IPL. They have played before, the likes of Sohail Tanveer, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohd Hafeez & Shahid Afridi, and are fantastic to watch. But on a personal level, I would prefer the relations to be a little better on an overall aspect before they are included. Security & Economic concerns of both the countries have to have some progress before this "highly symbolic but not very important practically" step is taken. The Prime Ministers meeting up is a start, if things progress over all, surely then. Till then, Thanks a lot. We in India really don't mind. Wounds in both sides of the border have to heal, that's how both the countries will progress, but some things do take time. Rushing them is not always the brightest idea.

  • BRUTALANALYST on June 3, 2014, 13:46 GMT

    Ipl should allow 5 overseas to give even more star attraction this still means majority of side is Indian but just adds extra value. Players like Shezad Umar Akmal Afridi Ajmal Junaid Irfan would all be great to see in the IPL.

  • AltafPatel on June 3, 2014, 13:57 GMT

    It will be fantastic to watch when Pak players allowed to play in IPL. As Gavaskar is interim president of BCCI, we can hope positive decisions.

  • on June 3, 2014, 16:31 GMT

    They should be friend again

  • Sandeep.Jain on June 3, 2014, 19:29 GMT

    Self Respect is bigger than Entertainment