Shoaib Akhtar is hopeful the IPL's impending move to South Africa or England could pave the way for Pakistani players to return to the lucrative Twenty20 tournament. Pakistan's cricketers were denied permission to play in the IPL by the Pakistan foreign office in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, but the tournament's likely move away from India has raised hopes the door may again be opened.
Even if restrictions are lifted, Pakistan's players will have a difficult time breaking back into the IPL in 2009, given that the eight franchises have full player rosters and the Pakistan national team is due to play a one-day series against Australia in Dubai and Abu Dhabi between April 22 and May 7. Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, had told reporters on Sunday that it would not be possible to include the Pakistan cricketers even at this point as the teams had been finalised and slots for foreign players filled.
Still, Shoaib said he and his Pakistani counterparts were holding out hope of an eleventh-hour call-up to the IPL, now that the tournament seems destined to be shifted out of India.
"For me, it ain't over till it's over," Shoaib told Cricinfo. "I haven't given up. It's up to the franchises. If they call upon my services, I will provide them.
"We do not have great circumstances with India at the moment. The situation between us is not crictical anymore, and hopefully it will get better in the coming months. It is a shame for the Indian fans that the tournament will not be played in India, but I think it is a good thing that it is still happening. London is like a second home to us. We would be very comfortable playing there. It would be great if that happened, but for now I am preparing to play against Australia in the ODIs next month and take wickets for my country."
Shoaib made a brief, though spectacular, contribution to the inaugural IPL after signing with the Kolkata Knight Riders for a reported US$425,000. In his first game against the Delhi Daredevils, the Pakistani tearaway claimed figures of 4-11, but played just two more games thereafter before again being struck down by injury.
"It was a dramatic comeback for me," he recalled. "I had been going through so much with the five-year ban [for breaching the PCB's code of conduct, later overturned], and to go out there and play again was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life. But it was a fantastic experience. Shah Rukh Khan, Sourav Ganguly and the whole team management really helped me a lot, and the Kolkata fans were very supportive. I had gone through a lot of mental trauma and was mentally not quite right going in, but they did a lot to help me."
Prior to the 2009 IPL auction, the contracts of Shoaib, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Salman Butt and Mohammed Hafeez were terminated by their franchises. Four other Pakistani players - Umar Gul, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal and Sohail Tanvir - had their contracts "suspended", allowing their teams to replace them at the draft.
Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, said he would make inquiries as to whether some of those players could be readmitted into the IPL's playing ranks. "I will be talking to the Indian board president and also our government," Butt told PTI. "I am sure some of the players would now like to play in the IPL if possible. If some players are interested in playing in the IPL and if their commitments don't clash with our national team commitments I will talk to the relevant authorities."