The Indian Express, 21 January 2010
Figure this out. Eleven Pakistani men, most of them members of the squad that won the 2009 Twenty20 world championship, were among the cricketers up for auction. Eight franchisees of the Indian Premier League were looking to add punch to their teams in season three, exuding the enticing mix of glamour, guile and strategising that’s made the auction the IPL’s most self-celebratory event. It is a moment when the older ethos of cricket, based on the domestic and international calendars, is contrasted with the go-getting flamboyance of the IPL franchisees, all too often a moment when the future reveals itself. On Tuesday, when a bunch of cricketers including the 11 Pakistanis went under the hammer, that possible future revealed itself to be heartless. On that day not one of the 11 Pakistanis, each of whom was up for auction because each had been considered by at least one franchisee in the preparatory stage, received a single bid.
It is not immediately clear whether the team owners had been explicitly told not to grab the Pakistanis, among them Shahid Afridi (a game-changer on his day, which still comes by often enough) and Sohail Tanvir (the best bowler of IPL-I). Maybe the franchisees have a point when they say they were driven by considerations of player availability. After all, between them the Indian government and the IPL — led by its imperious commissioner, Lalit Modi — organised enough of an obstacle race last month to put doubts in the team owners’ minds. Then, crude ultimatums were issued to some of the Pakistanis by Modi on the pretext that they had not completed their paperwork and obtained visas. Maybe all that the team strategists were doing was pick up the signals emanating from the government and the IPL. After all, the Pakistan government too had been reluctant to allow their cricketers to participate in IPL-II, post-26/11.
However, none of that rationalisation lets anyone off the hook, not the governments, not the IPL, not the franchisees. Each in its own way has damaged the special place cricket has held during even the worst phases in India-Pakistan ties. Many times cricket between India and Pakistan has been suspended, but never has one country insulted the other’s cricketers. And whenever cricketers have been asked to prop up normalisation efforts, they have gamely obliged. Even if it be that no one explicitly set off Tuesday’s outrage, the result has damaged the game. Again it has been shown that cricket, with all the qualities and messages that attach to it, is not safe with the IPL.
See our blogger Iqbal Khattaks take here.