IPL teams hope to field Pakistan players again
Pakistan's title win in the ICC World Twenty20 has sparked a buzz among the IPL franchises who are now hoping that players from the victorious team will be available to play in the league next year. It may happen sooner rather than later: Sohail Tanvir could play for his IPL franchise next month, when Rajasthan Royals, the 2008 champions, play Middlesex at Lord's in a one-off game.
Manoj Badale, the Royals co-owner, told Cricinfo that Tanvir, who was part of Rajasthan's IPL-winning team last year, will play the game on July 6, "subject to availability". The match between Rajasthan and Middlesex Panthers, last year's English Twenty20 champions, will take place two days before the first Ashes Test and is being organised by the British Asian Trust. Pakistan are scheduled to start their Test series against Sri Lanka in Galle on July 4 but Tanvir does not figure in the 15-member national squad.
Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, is clear that the league has "no problems" letting Pakistani players play the next edition in India in March 2010 but said it's for the governments of the two countries to decide. And franchise officials are now hoping for some clarity to emerge on the issue after political tensions between India and Pakistan prevented those players from participating in this year's competition.
Joy Bhattacharya, team director of Kolkata Knight Riders, said all the IPL teams would "definitely welcome them back" if Pakistan players were made available next year. Amrit Mathur, chief operating officer of Delhi Daredevils, said they would "look at recruiting more players" from the World Twenty20-winning team, if such an opportunity arose. Ray Jennings, coach of Royal Bangalore Challengers, said that the return of Pakistan players would be a "very good thing" that will strengthen the system.
Eleven Pakistani players, including Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul, the stars of Pakistan's World Twenty20 campaign, were recruited by the Kolkata, Rajasthan, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore franchises before the inaugural IPL. However, the franchises opted to retain the contracts of only four of them - Akmal and Tanvir (Rajasthan), Misbah-ul-Haq (Bangalore) and Gul (Kolkata) - after it became clear that they would not be able to play in the second season of the league.
Even these four contracts are on a suspended status after the terror attacks in Mumbai last year led to a chill in political ties between India and Pakistan. In fact, no Pakistani team has been invited for this October's Champions League, the multi-nation, inter-club competition jointly organised by the boards of India, South Africa and Australia. "We have no problems in letting the Pakistan players play," Modi, who is also chairman of Champions League, told Cricinfo. "It's for the two governments to decide. The Pakistan government has to clear their players to play in India and the Indian government has to allow them to play here."
"We have always wanted the Pakistani players," Bhattacharya said. "Gul, especially, is a valuable player for Kolkata. Why only Kolkata? I am sure every IPL team would welcome them back. But we are aware that there are extraneous factors that will influence any decision on this issue."
Kolkata also had Shoaib Akhtar and Salman Butt in their squad in 2008 but chose to terminate the two contracts. "Pakistan has some of the best Twenty20 players and the title win in England only proved that," Bhattacharya said. "To a large extent, the format suits players from Pakistan. Fast swing bowling and natural, uncomplicated batting is what Twenty20 demand and Pakistan have those."
Mathur said that Delhi hoped for clarity to emerge on the issue soon. "We had two Pakistan players in the first year and if they are made available next year, we will look at signing more players from the Pakistan team," he said.
Delhi had signed Shoaib Malik, the former Pakistan captain, and fast bowler Mohammad Asif in 2008 but terminated both contracts. Asif's contract was terminated after the player was banned for a year following an adverse dope result during the inaugural IPL edition.
Deccan Chargers, the IPL champions this year, had signed Shahid Afridi for US$675,000 in 2008 but chose to terminate his contract this year when they were informed that he would not be allowed to play. "There is no point looking back," PK Iyer, the managing director of Chargers' parent company, Deccan Holdings, said. "The South Africans were the flavour of the season this year, and it could be the Pakistanis next time. But it is not in our hands."
Jennings, who coached Bangalore to the IPL final this year, said that Misbah is a "key player" for his team. "It would be a very good thing if they are made available," Jennings said. "The more players that are available, the better it is for the system. But having said that, it is not for me to decide."
Rajasthan, meanwhile, were keen to field Akmal, too, at Lord's next month but the wicket-keeper has been named in the Pakistan squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka and will not be available for the charity game. The Royals had also signed up Younis Khan last year but opted to terminate his contract later. On Sunday though, the Pakistan captain turned his back on the Indian league and announced that he won't play the Twenty20 format any longer.
Ajay Shankar is a deputy editor at Cricinfo