The IPL opened its doors a little to players from Pakistan once again, though ironically it was made more difficult for the four players with existing - albeit suspended - contracts to take part in the next edition of the lucrative league. Non-contracted Pakistani players, however, can enter this season's auction, a step forward from last season
Kamran Akmal, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul and Misbah-ul-Haq, the gang of four who already had existing contracts with franchises, had their visas cleared earlier today by the Indian ministry of external affairs, briefly raising hopes that they may be allowed in after all. But because they missed the December 7 deadline to do so, their contracts remain suspended, according to Lalit Modi, chairman IPL. It wasn't, however, a total reinforcement of the league's earlier decision which ruled them out totally; they can, in the right circumstances, still appear.
"The current players will be kept in suspension as they have not fulfilled their obligations," Modi told Cricinfo. "The current suspended players cannot go to the auction. But they will be available to the franchisee for replacement if they have a spot. So their price does not change and others cannot bid for them as it will be a disadvantage for the existing owners."
Essentially this means that Tanvir, for example, can play for Rajasthan Royals only if they decide to free up a spot in their squad by getting rid of another foreign player. This will not be straightforward as the franchises involved - Rajasthan Royals (Tanvir and Akmal), Kolkata Knight Riders (Gul) and Bangalore Royal Challengers (Misbah) - have already replaced their Pakistani players after the contracts were first suspended.
This will come as a disappointment not only to the players but to chairman Ijaz Butt and the PCB. Butt has fought hard to get his players back into the IPL after they were prevented by their own government from playing in the second season, a fallout of a deterioration in political ties between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks of 2008. He met Modi in October to begin finding a way back for the players. After confirming that visas had been granted earlier today, Butt intended to speak to Modi to try and get the four back in, despite missing the deadline, which had already been extended twice.
Some gains seem to have been made, however, as other non-contracted Pakistani players can enter this season's auction. "Others who are not with any franchisee can be in the auction. They need to apply by December 31. Once we get their request we will then put them on the list and fix a price," Modi said, before adding that "all contracts expire after this season and we will then go through new process again."
In an ideal world, Pakistani players such as Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Aamer would be attractive purchases in any auction, given that they won the World Twenty20 earlier this year and are generally considered the leading nation in the format. But franchises may find the red tape and paperwork to get through in getting players over too much.
On a day of swift developments, Modi also addressed a press conference after news of the visa clearances came through, but full clarity is yet to be reached; who, for example, will initiate contact between franchises and Pakistan players for the auction; and what paperwork will be required for new Pakistani players to appear in the next IPL.