January 23, 2010

A case of misplaced outrage

It's not easy to assign blame for the fiasco over the exclusion of Pakistani players from the third season of the IPL

Once again an issue involving India and Pakistan has blown up into a storm, thanks to some misunderstanding and some bad handling, with the repercussions still unclear. The immediate, regrettable fallout of Tuesday's IPL auction is that there will be no Pakistani players in the coming season, but it is quite conceivable that things will spill over beyond that.

Pakistan is outraged; sportsmen, politicians, the common man have all had their say. There is talk of the Pakistan team boycotting next month's hockey World Cup in India, and perhaps a boycott of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi later this year. There have also been calls for Pakistani cable operators to black out coverage of the IPL. The PCB chief says he will take up the issue with the ICC. The outrage is understandable, for the cricketers are national heroes - six months ago they were crowned world champions in this very format of the game. It may be scant consolation to those in Pakistan but their outrage is shared to some extent across the border - not least by Indian fans looking forward to seeing some of the most exciting cricketers in live action.

Yet all that outrage is slightly misplaced, because this is not a decision of the Indian government, nor even of the BCCI; this is not a matter of national importance, it isn't even about a bilateral tour. This is a decision concerning 11 cricketers, taken by the IPL franchises, eight separate and distinct entities. The ICC has no locus standi on this issue and the threats - calling off a tour, boycotting a tournament, resorting to censorship - are political tools that assign the issue far more importance than it deserves. India's foreign ministry put it succinctly: "The participation or absence of Pakistani cricketers in a commercial event of the nature of the IPL is a matter not within the purview of the government."

It's the cricketers who have every right to feel short-changed. For the past two months, they have been put through an emotional wringer, forced to deal with legal complexities and faced with shifting goalposts. Below, to refresh memory, at the risk of repetition, is the sequence of events:

November 16: The IPL sets a deadline of November 20 for Pakistani players to get no-objection certificates from their board and clearance from their government.

November 25: Apparently realising the impossibility of the deadline, the IPL extends it to December 7

December 7: Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, says Pakistani players are out of the IPL since they have failed to meet the deadline, amid claims from the Pakistan side that they had done their share of the paperwork. "The players have applied for visas but the clearance hasn't come from the Indian side. The ball is not in our court," Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, says.

December 10: Modi extends the deadline for Pakistani players to December 31 but bowls a googly - the four players already on the franchises' books will not be eligible for the auction.

December 30: Cricinfo reports that 12 Pakistani players have applied for the auction.

January 2: The IPL's official longlist for the auction shows that 26 Pakistanis have registered.

The shortlist - those players specifically requested by the franchises - released on January 6, had seven Pakistani names. Another list, released on January 16, had 11.

So whom does one shout at? Whose effigy to burn? Whom to blame? It's not as easy as it once was, when decisions were taken by a single, identifiable entity; the game has changed, market forces are at play

There is, from the outside, no evidence to suggest that anything happened on the political front between January 6, when these players were officially sought by the franchises, and the auction on January 19, when they were rejected. If you were a Pakistani player - and those up for auction were among the world's best - you had every right to believe, on the morning of January 19, that you would be signed up by a franchise. Short-changed? Mugged is a better word for it.

Their plight evokes much sympathy. The danger is that it will cloud an objective look at the situation. Ultimately, this was an economic decision aimed at the bottom line - a situation admittedly poorly handled and probably not thought through, but a decision free of bias.

One can fix the blame on any or all of the principals involved, depending on one's perception. The cricketers, it can be argued, set themselves up for such a humiliation the moment they agreed to be auctioned. Humiliation is merely the flip side of the million-dollar contract. You can't have the dough and the dignity.

By that act, they crossed some line and ceded their right to be treated with the dignity one would expect. The Indian government did not send a clear message either way that would give a direction to the process. The IPL could have handled the situation far better, taking the lead where no one else was willing to.

The final call, though, rested with the franchises and they exercised their choice. They, too, could have handled it better - the call they took on January 19 could conceivably have been taken weeks before, when the situation was the same, thereby nipping this controversy in the bud. But the decision they eventually took was a simple matter of reconciling squad sheets and balance sheets. The mantra at this year's auction was availability; franchises sought those players with a guaranteed presence through the tournament. For most players, this meant being free of other commitments; for Pakistanis, it meant not being hostage to the mercurial relations between the two countries. Ultimately, that was a risk too big for the franchises to take.

So whom does one shout at? Whose effigy to burn? Whom to blame? It's not as easy as it once was, when decisions were taken by a single, identifiable entity. The game has changed, market forces are at play. The government is as much a bystander as are the ICC and the BCCI. Instead of burning effigies, the outraged in Pakistan can follow the old maxim: If you can't join 'em, beat 'em.

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Indi on January 24, 2010, 1:04 GMT

    There were 11 slots available and 66 international players to pick from and each team had a specific slot to fill. Obviously, the teams wanted to fill the best possible option. On the contrary if there was government involvement (which we don't really need), there would be a quota to select someone from every country, don't you think ? You want to build a team that has a good chance to win rather than one that parades the top international players.

  • Faisal on January 23, 2010, 23:36 GMT

    I think Pakistanis are underestimating their ability to create a similar type of league for Pakistan. Unusual circumstances call for unusual and out of the box thinking. A "global pakistan league" exploiting the $$ of expartriates and their passion for the game would be awesome. Imagine such a league which has teams from Lahore, Karachi, Pindi, etc. with Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc...More importantly imagine Afridi being auctioned for Dubai.. It may be far fetched but all great endeavours initially seem far fetched. If PCB become creative, they would not have to be knocking on any door....Bottom line, it is up to us, and no one else, how we come out of this situation, either mere beggars for some spots in an Indian tournament or going two steps further than IPL!! When there is a will, there is a way...does PCB have the will?

  • Deepak on January 23, 2010, 21:31 GMT

    who pays the money? franchise owners. so who are to decide whom to pick and whom to not? franchise owners. right. So deal wid it. watch the edition or don't. thats the only decision u can make. Stop whining and move on.

  • Umair on January 23, 2010, 21:30 GMT

    Tell me how does it sound like "none of the players from World T20 Champion Team selected in IPL T20". Lot of people here talking abt IPL a business and that y cant Pakistanis understand thats its a pure business thing and this and that. Well lemme telll u all if u talkin abt from business point of view than it is aloss to not select players like Afridi and Gul. I doubt there will be people turning off their tv sets when Afridi comes out to bat or Gul is bowling. Why did not the IPL & franchises think about increase in TV ratings which would occur because Pakistanis were playing. As far as the argument abt relations between 2 countries goes, I think there was no need to show this concern at the auction, the franchises should have communicated this to IPL well before and IPL should have communicated this to PCB well before. It just is not posssible that overnight the franchises thought "oh no, wat abt the relations between the govts we forgot abt that"...

    Anybody to answer this?

  • Aashan on January 23, 2010, 21:09 GMT

    Dear Mr. Gupta, I wish things were as simple as you make them out to be. The situation of the pakistani players is no diffirent to 2 months ago when the same franchises expressed their interest in signing Pak players. I wud not rule out a concerted effort by Indian government and BCCI to instruct the franchises not to bid for these players. This way they can hide behind the franchises. And I do not buy your argument that the outrage of Pakistanis is shared by the Indians. If this was true we have yet to see something to that effect atleast on Cricinfo from the many writers. Instead all I have seen from Indian writers is to somehow justify the decision.

  • Rashid on January 23, 2010, 21:00 GMT

    In my humble opinion, all the opinions mentioned by different bloggers appear to have some validity - it all depends on how you look at it. All said and done, the game of cricket will be a loser without the excitement and flair that Pakistani players bring to it (This would be very similiar if we were to take out Australian or Indian cricketers from a tournament or a league). After all Pakistan is the reigning champion of T20 and without beating the campions, no one can claim to be a champion - it would be a case of losers playing against losers!! There won't be another Gawaskar, Tendulkar, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and similar other names prodcued by sub-continent. Lets be all inclusive and enjoy the real game of cricket - let the politicians do the politics!

  • Saif on January 23, 2010, 20:16 GMT

    To all the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan fans, we should understand that IPL is an indian League and that is it. Instead of venting out on BCCI and IPL, this is a great opportunity to form another serious league that is not a country based but rather regional, like Pakistan, Bnagladesh, Sri Lanka (I am sure Sril Lankan fans would love to see their stars represent colombo or candy etc..), UAE (has excellent facilitties).

    At this point BCCI by its virtue of distancing itself from this fiasco has opened the doors for a better league and in the long run it would suffer. It is thier right to choose who they want to play and who they want to exlcude but they no longer can or should be able to dictate other countries in the region as to what they should do.

    BCCI and IPL out of their arrogance has provided a huge opportunity for others in the region and it is really a great blessing in disguise....

    Hopefully smart ones would grab this opportunity..

  • Asad on January 23, 2010, 20:01 GMT

    At the end of the day with the linguistic and cultural commonalities it's difficult to be isolated from each other. I know people in Pakistan that worship Bollywood stars since childhood and revere Sachin in exactly the same terms he is revered in India. Underneath the nationalistic jingoism Pakistanis were really opening up to India as regional big brother that it had started to have a more healthy relationship with. When the Mumbai incident happened people in Pakistan were shocked and every Pakistani I know commiserated with their Indian friends. If someone wanted to create hatred between the two countries the Mumbai incidents was a perfect way to do it. Now unfortunately people will stop watching the IPL in Pakistan, right wingers will call for a ban on bollywood films and things will roll backwards. I'm not sure who wins in that situation? Definitely not Pakistan or India.

  • Srinivas on January 23, 2010, 19:55 GMT

    Why in God's name is this such a big issue. There are bigger problems than a bunch of players trying to earn some easy dough but denied the opportunity to do so. I think these guys should stop whinging & moaning and act like proper men. It's not as if the franchises have an obligation to take them, is it? All said and done, it makes perfect business sense to do what they did and there's no denying the fact that it is indeed business. The risks are just far too many.

  • Sandeep on January 23, 2010, 19:39 GMT

    All this crying and whining by Pakistanis is just ridiculous. I would have loved to have seen the Pakistani cricketers in the IPL, specially Mohammed Aamer. But to politicize the whole issue, and withdraw hockey teams, kabbadi teams, wrestling teams, gilli danda teams is stupid. They even stopped the Chief Election Commissioner from coming to India because of this, how funny is that. Sure cricket and politics should not be mixed, and whatever happened might have been perceived as an insult to the cricketers but to say it was an insult to the whole nation is just going overboard.

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