Shoaib's five-year ban upheld
Shoaib Akhtar's international future was left dangling in limbo after the appellate tribunal set up to hear his appeal against a five-year ban upheld the ban, but only temporarily, deciding instead to revisit the appeal in June.
The decision is given an even stranger hue because it allows Shoaib to play outside Pakistan - the Indian Premier League (IPL) for example - even though the league maintains that he will only be allowed to play if his ban on playing for Pakistan is removed.
Justice (retd) Aftab Farrukh, the head of the three-man tribunal, said the main hearing into Shoaib's appeal against the ban would now take place in June and that the ban on playing in or for Pakistan would stay in place until then.
"We have seen Shoaib's track record and believe that he has not learnt any lesson. He flouted discipline of the board, he harmed the chairman of the board and fellow cricketers and above all sentiments of the nation," Farrukh said.
"We considered every aspect of the decision of the disciplinary committee and think that they banned Akhtar on grounds of indiscipline and there was no victimisation."
There had been concerns from day one of the appeals process, particularly because Farrukh had expressed great reluctance in heading the tribunal. Soon after he was appointed, Farrukh told a local TV channel that he didn't have the time to take up this case, a situation seemingly borne out by today's verdict.
Meanwhile, Shoaib's position with the IPL remains unclear. While the PCB clarified that he is free to play in the IPL, a league spokesperson told Cricinfo that their position of not allowing him to take part in the tournament "remains the same" as of now. The IPL had decided to bar Shoaib from the tournament in "the interests of international discipline" after the PCB's initial decision to hand him a ban. Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Kolkata Knight Riders, the team that bought Shoaib for US$425,000, said they will abide by the IPL stand.
To further muddy matters, Shoaib's lawyers have said they will push for a hearing date earlier than June if the IPL doesn't let him play. "After this interim order we hope that the IPL will allow Akhtar to play in the IPL but if they don't we will press for an early hearing of the appeal than the set date of June," Abid Hasan Minto told reporters.
With both international cricket and the IPL ruled out, one option for Shoaib would have been the Indian Cricket League. The unofficial league does not fall under the Indian board - and has an all- Pakistan team in its Twenty20 tournament. However, its business head, Himanshu Mody, confirmed to Cricinfo that the ICL was not in talks with Shoaib.
The tribunal's decision comes just a day after Shoaib apologised to the PCB chairman, Nasim Ashraf, in the second of three hearings.
On April 1 the board banned Shoaib from playing cricket, for and in Pakistan, for violating the players' code of conduct by publicly criticising the PCB and various policies. Shoaib filed an appeal against the ban claiming that he was being "victimised" and then went on a media rampgage in which he accused the board chairman of various financial wrongdoings. Shoaib's ban took into account that he was already on two years' probation for hitting Mohammad Asif with a bat before the start of the World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007. That offence saw him fined 3.4 million rupees ($52,000 dollars) and banned for 13 matches.