The Indian board has announced an "amnesty" for all Indian players associated with the ICL, who can return to official cricket provided they cut all ties with the unofficial league by May 31. The players who choose to return to the official fold will be eligible to play international cricket after a one-year 'cooling period' but can play domestic cricket from June 1, when the ICC's new rules on official and unofficial cricket come into force.
"A lot of cricketers and support staff with the ICL met us and told us that they committed a mistake by joining the ICL and they want to return to the BCCI," Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president, said after a meeting of the board, where the decision was taken. "They will be allowed to play domestic cricket immediately. "
It's learnt that other national boards who have banned their ICL players from official cricket are expected to follow suit. There are at least 85 Indian and 60 foreign players aligned with the ICL, which is bankrolled by India's largest listed media company, Zee Telefilms and headed by the country's lone World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev.
The country standing to gain the most from the decision is Pakistan, which has 20 players in the ICL of whom half - including Mohammad Yousuf - could expect to play for the national side. New Zealand, which has lost its most potent fast bowler, Shane Bond, has already said it could waive the cooling-off period.
There was no immediate reaction from the ICL but, shortly after news broke of the amnesty, Cricinfo received a statement from the league. "Taking forward its sports performance evaluation process across all cricket operations, the ICL management has decided not to renew the contracts of some of the ICL players and support staff that have expired", the statement, by the ICL's head Himanshu Mody, said. "As cricket professionals they are free to decide and explore their options."
The "sports performance evaluation process" Mody referred to was a review, revealed to Cricinfo in February, of its underperforming players.
The ICL and BCCI have been at loggerheads ever since the league was announced two years ago, in the aftermath of India's disastrous World Cup campaign. It was a revolutionary idea but lacked official sanction and soon paid the price for that. The Indian board hit back by blacklisting the league and those who joined it, as players or support staff, and a few months later announced the formation of the IPL.
The BCCI's stand was then adopted by most other boards who lost players to the IPL, though the ban has been applied selectively across the ICC's member nations; of late some ICL players, especially in Pakistan and New Zealand, have been admitted back to domestic cricket.
The ban remained a controversial issue, though, and the ICL lobbied hard with the ICC to have the status revoked. The ICC set up meeting between the league and the Indian board but the BCCI did not appear keen on a resolution and the meetings came to naught. Earlier this month, the ICC formally rejected an application by the ICL for "authorised unofficial" status, saying it did not meet its criteria.
News of the amnesty is expected to be welcomed by ICL players, though their return to the official fold is still several steps away.
"Some of us have been stuck with the ICL and not knowing where we are headed cricket-wise, especially after the March programme was cancelled," Badani told Cricinfo. "Some of the ICL money due to us was not coming through either, possibly due to the recession. But mostly some of us were frustrated because there just hasn't been enough cricket for us in the ICL. Of course, we played some good cricket in the ICL but not the quantity we expected."
However, Badani, who plays for Chennai Superstars, said he would decide within a week whether to take up the offer and would weigh his options carefully.
Gavaskar, who plays for Royal Bengal Tigers, said he hoped the ICL would not come in the way of players who wish to represent their country. "It is a positive decision because the BCCI is giving the ICL player an option," he said. "If they don't make use of this option they can't blame the BCCI in future. Also the ICL had said initially when they were recruiting players that they would not come in the way of a player if he gets a chance to play for the country."