Yorkshire might have breathed a discreet sigh of relief last week with the failure of Tim Bresnan and Anthony McGrath to attract bids at the annual Indian Premier League auction. But for Pakistan, the rejection of all of their eleven players on sale was viewed as an affront to nationhood and amplified the barriers between two neighbouring nuclear-powers.
The IPL insist that politics was not considered when their franchises selected players. Yet going into the auction Pakistan could boast of being 20-overs world champions and had in all-rounder, Shahid Afridi, the favourite to attract the highest bid.
The IPL is a commercial organisation, ordained to exploit the commercial potential of the shortened form of cricket. Yet their links with the Indian Board (BCCI) and their financial muscle have added another power broker to challenge both national board and the International Cricket Council (ICC), with motives that lack of transparency.
Certainly $750,000 for novice Kieran Pollard (15 one-day internationals) and the injury-prone Shane Bond over the explosive Afridi belie economic sense.
Neither Indian Mohammad Kaif nor Australian Damian Martyn have graced the international field in the past three seasons, but were given contracts.
Staged in Mumbai, the scene of terrorist attacks that forced last year’s IPL to be held in South Africa, and against blanket coverage of the trial of suspected Pakistani terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the attacks, the franchises claimed that their choices at auction were not influenced by politics.
“We were not sure if the Pakistanis would get visas and we did not want players who won’t be available,” said one franchise official. “Besides, there is also the security issue. No one was willing to take a chance.”
Yet the inclusion of Pakistani players in the final auction list was on the basis of specific requests received from the franchises – every player on that list had to be officially sought by at least one franchise.
In addition, Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the IPL, recently stated that the security for this year’s tournament would be on a par with that of an international tour. This maybe in part a reaction to the far-right Shiv Sena who have promised to prevent Australians from playing cricket in Mumbai in revenge for racist attacks on Indian students in Australia.
Pakistani reaction to the exclusion of their players was understandably emotive. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan argued “this has proved that India can never be sincere towards Pakistan,” and demanded that the government should break all diplomatic ties with New Delhi.
The Pakistan sports minister complained to his Indian counterpart of “discrimination” and Javed Miandad, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s director of operations, described the snub as “nothing less than humiliation – not only of our cricketers but the whole nation.”
The Indian authorities are eager to distance themselves from any responsibility for the actions of the IPL franchises. The government has insisted that the IPL is an independent commercial enterprise. The BCCI’s N. Srinivasan reiterated that both Indian Board and government had nothing to do with the player selections.
The same Mr Srinivasan is the owner of the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
Sensing a multi-pronged assault on their cricketers, the PCB are set to appeal to the ICC, though the IPL is out of their remit and one must question who carries the greater weight in world cricket today.
Other moves associated with the forthcoming IPL season will have raised an eyebrow or two amongst cricket’s governors. The announcement of Modi, who is also vice-president of the BCCI, that matches will be played in America by next year, shows another attempt to develop the brand in the US. The agreement to show matches on You Tube marks an early foray into the future possibilities of viewing sport.
At first sight, Andrew Strauss’s decision to opt out of England’s tour to Bangladesh has little implication for the IPL. However, it allows for the possibility that top players could pick and chose tours or competitions.
I thought Eoin Morgan was unlucky to not be considered for a Test place on this tour, but any disappointment was cushioned by a $220,000 a year contract to play for the Royal Challengers.
Maybe considered a one-day specialist, the Irish-born cricketer announced shortly after his recruitment that he didn’t think he was ready yet to play Test cricket, thus ensuring that international commitments would not interfere with his IPL ones.
The move by the IPL against Pakistan is political in my opinion and is more obvious than Morgan’s choice to focus on one-day cricket. Yet, as is evident by the move to the US and the exploration of the Internet, the IPL continue to be the main influence in the development of cricket today.