Court suspends PCB ban on ICL players

The Sind High Court has temporarily lifted a ban on Pakistan's ICL players from competing in domestic cricket. Effectively, the order means the group of 19 cricketers in the league can - and some will - take part in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the domestic first-class competition. The ban on their participation in international cricket, however, remains since it is not yet a point of argument in the legal proceedings.

A letter had initially been sent by the legal firm representing the players to the Pakistan board last week to enquire about the ban. It was thought then that the matter would not be immediately be taken to court, but the players' lawyer Zahid Ebrahim said subsequent PCB prevarication over the response and another fruitless bout of discussions at the ICC board meeting in Perth prompted the legal action. "We waited for the ICC meeting and nothing happened there. The PCB wanted a month to respond to our queries and as the domestic season is already on, we decided to move," Ebrahim told Cricinfo.

The matter appeared at the High Court today and immediately an interim order was passed, lifting the ban until further notice. The court has called the PCB for a hearing on February 10.

"An interim order was passed today, by a single bench High Court judge, staying the ban on these players," Ebrahim said. "The court has suspended the operation of the PCB's playing condition 2.2 which bans these players from domestic cricket. A notice has been sent to the PCB to appear on February 10. The restriction was on domestic cricket only."

Eleven players are behind the motion, including Imran Farhat, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Yousuf, Mohammad Sami, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Shabbir Ahmed and Hasan Raza. Understandably, there was relief, even if it is temporary. "This is like someone has pumped life back into us," Farhat told Cricinfo. "It is a massive relief for us and we have known all along that we are right in our fight."

Farhat will now appear for his employers Habib Bank Limited in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy from the next round of matches. "My bank have been great. Unlike other organisations, they supported me throughout this. They paid my salary every month and benefits and they really have been great."

Though there has not been active support from the present administration of the PCB, Farhat acknowledged that a more flexible stance on the matter has helped. "The statements this board has made have been favourable to us generally and certainly they have handled it far better than the last administration and government," Farhat said. "The chairman was also in Australia discussing the case and they are behind us. We haven't been in touch with them at all, but you can sense that this administration wants to help. Cricketers know how cricketers feel. It is in the interests of Pakistan."

Ironically, deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan mean that a cloud hovers over the very future of Pakistan involvement in the ICL, which currently involves a team consisting of only Pakistan players, Lahore Badshahs, besides players in other teams. But Farhat is optimistic it will be sorted out. "I think they [ICL] are looking at options to make it work, different venues maybe. But I am hopeful something good will come of that."

The key to this case now may well be the stance and slant of the board and their policy. In the early days of the present PCB administration, officials such as Javed Miandad openly argued for the bans to be removed. But Miandad has now gone and Ijaz Butt, the chairman, has struggled to properly grasp the nuts and bolts of the issue. He had been extensively briefed by the board's legal team about the case before the ICC meeting in Perth. Whether or not the issue was brought up there is not currently known.

No immediate statement of any intent was forthcoming from the board. "Let us receive the copy of the order and study it first," Saleem Altaf, chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. "But a court order is a court order and we will have to respond accordingly."

The ICC will also be interested in studying the details of the order, as the case may well have repercussions for ICL players around the world. It is understood that the PCB will contact the ICC as soon as the order has been examined.