Last year, When Harbhajan Singh and Ricky Ponting played in the IPL for the same team, Mumbai Indians, the infamous memories from Sydneygate were partially buried. It proved that the IPL was capable of burying the hatchet and moving on. However, not a single Pakistani name figured in the IPL auctions held in Bangalore recently.
That came as a setback to Pakistan cricket – a point that their T20 captain Mohammad Hafeez stressed. “It is strange that for years now Pakistani players have not been allowed to play in the IPL. I played In the first season and it was great learning experience,” he had said. Even the PCB head Najam Sethi has been in touch with BCCI in an attempt to resolve the situation.
In the inaugural edition of the IPL back in 2008, seven Pakistani players were sold to different franchises, with Shahid Afridi being the costliest Pakistani bought by the Deccan Chargers. Despite having a quiet tournament, Afridi was a crowd puller. Umar Gul was the highest wicket-taker for Kolkata Knight Riders and Sohail Tanvir was the bowler of the tournament.
In the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks later that year, tension between the two countries mounted, and Pakistan has since been shut out of the IPL. In 2010, despite being included in the auction, no Pakistani players were sold. In 2012 former Pakistani all-rounder Azhar Mahmood played for Kings XI Punjab, but perhaps only because he had by then acquired British citizenship.
Amidst all this, Pakistan won the World T20 in 2009, and made the semi-finals in 2010 and 2012. Currently Pakistan have got one of the strongest squads in the format, with players like Saeed Ajmal, Hafeez, Gul and Afridi all occupying high rankings in the ICC list.
At this year’s auction an IPL official said: “The presence of Pakistani players creates security concerns for the team and there is no guarantee that franchises would be willing to buy them even if they are in the auction.” Recent developments around the timing of elections in India mean that the IPL might have to be shifted out of India this year. It’s highly likely that a bulk of the tournament will be held at a neutral venue, probably South Africa. This could provide an opening for Pakistan’s players since it will make the security fears over hosting them in India irrelevant.
Here’s hoping Pakistan players make it to the IPL. After all, which cricket fan wouldn’t want to see MS Dhoni and Afridi hitting the world’s best bowlers out of the park together?