In the news for wrong reasons

The absence of any Pakistani cricketer in the list of 11 players sold at the auction overshadowed some major buys, writes S. Dinakar.

There will be no Pakistani cricketer in IPL Season-III. In the player auction ahead of the competition in Mumbai on January 19 — as many as 11 cricketers from Pakistan were in the fray — not a single Pakistani was bought by a franchise.

The Pakistanis in the fray were Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Mohammad Aamer, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Misbah-ul-Haq, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Imran Nazir and Saeed Ajmal.

Predictably, there was an outrage in Pakistan over the auction. After all, Pakistan was the winner of the ICC World Twenty20 in England in 2009. And Afridi, in particular, could be explosive in the shortest form of the game.

Pakistan’s Federal Sports Minister Aijaz Hussain Jakhrani revealed the players had received political and security clearance from the Ministries of Sports, Interior and Foreign Affairs. The Pakistani cricketers had missed the second edition of the IPL in South Africa since their government did not provide them the security clearance after the terrorist strikes in Mumbai in November 2008.

This time, the IPL extended the December 7 deadline for the Pakistani cricketers to get the clearance from their Board and the government. As many as 26 Pakistanis were in the initial list for the auction. This was pruned to 11 — at least one franchise had to display interest in a cricketer for him to be a part of the auction — and there were at least a couple of players who appeared sure picks.

Then came the auction and the Pakistani cricketers remained unsold. They reacted with anger. The fiery Afridi did not mince words, while Abdul Razzaq called the episode a “conspiracy” against Pakistan cricketers.

While there were indications that the franchisees were concerned about the Pakistani cricketers, if signed, not receiving visas, the Government of India was emphatic that it had no role to play in the auction.

N. Srinivasan, secretary, Board of Control for Cricket in India and owner of the IPL Franchise, Chennai Super Kings, said neither the Board nor the Indian Government influenced the auction in any fashion. “The decisions of individual franchise owners should not be mixed up with government policy,” he said. The Board had no say in the cricketers the franchisees settled for, he added.

Srinivasan said there were not many vacancies and as many as 66 foreign cricketers were in the fray for the auction. “Each team can only have a maximum of 10 foreign players in the squad,” he said. Going into the auction, six of the franchises had only one vacancy each for an overseas cricketer while two others had an additional slot owing to injuries.

The BCCI secretary said the franchisees had the right to pick whom they wanted and were guided by their needs and the availability of the cricketers. Were not well known cricketers such as Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brad Haddin, Graeme Swann and Doug Bollinger left unsold at the auction, he asked.

There was also a strong view in some quarters that the Pakistani cricketers should not have been made to go through the rather tedious process of securing clearance from their Board and Government if doubts persisted in the minds of the franchisees that the players might struggle to get visas from the Indian Government. “The entire episode could have been avoided,” said a Board official.

While the IPL Commissioner, Lalit Modi, Preity Zinta of Kings XI Punjab and Shilpa Shetty of Rajasthan Royals dwelt on the basic right of the franchisees to pick whom they wanted, Shah Rukh Khan, owner of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), held a very different view. The Bollywood star told a television channel, “I think, it’s a humiliation to me as a KKR owner that this has happened. We are known to be good, we are known to invite everyone, and we should have. And if there were other issues, they should have been put out earlier so that everything could happen respectfully. I truly believe that they should have been chosen.”

He, however, added: “But somewhere down the line, there is an issue and we cannot deny it…Every day we blame Pakistan, every day they blame us, that is an issue.”

While there might have been no directive from the Government, the franchisees might have been unwilling to take risk over the issuance of visa to Pakistani cricketers.

The absence of any Pakistani cricketer in the list of 11 — including India’s Mohammad Kaif — sold at the auction overshadowed some major buys.

The West Indies’ big-hitter Kieron Pollard was bought by Mumbai Indians following a silent tie-breaker after the cap of $750,000 was reached. The additional amount bid by Mumbai Indians — an undisclosed sum — goes to the BCCI.

New Zealand paceman Shane Bond was signed by Shah Rukh’s KKR in another tie-breaker after the $750,000 limit was reached. Deccan Chargers picked up the West Indies paceman, Kemar Roach, for a whopping $720,000. South Africa’s left-arm paceman Wayne Parnell was secured by Delhi Daredevils for $610,000.

But the exclusion of the Pakistanis made more news than the cricketers signed for big money.