The Indian Premier League will be missing one spicy ingredient from its heady mix in 2009 after Pakistan’s exhilarating players were exiled from the money-spinning tournament.
The Pakistan government banned its players from participating in the IPL after political relations with India deteriorated in the wake of November’s terror attacks in Mumbai, which New Delhi blamed on militants based across the border.
By the time the IPL was relocated to South Africa, following the Indian government’s refusal to provide adequate security, as the event overlapped with parliamentary elections, Pakistani players’ contracts had already been either terminated or suspended.
The IPL refused to include Pakistan players even after the relocation, claiming new stars had been bought by franchises as replacements.
Pakistani players were outraged and claimed the IPL had not bothered to inform them about the contract cancellations. They even staged a protest under the banner ‘Include us or pay us’ in Lahore last week.
They have also threatened legal action.
Former international captain Ramiz Raja believes a consequence will be plummeting interest in the IPL in Pakistan.
“With the event moving out of India and there are no Pakistani players playing, so interest in our country has definitely gone down,” said Raja, who as a television commentator, will be the only Pakistani involved in this year’s IPL.
Even Pakistan’s two world class umpires, Aleem Dar and Asad Rauf, were left out in the cold.
Pakistan’s limited overs series against Australia from April 22-May 7 in the United Arab Emirates, which clashes with the first half of the IPL, will also divert the attention of television viewers away from events in South Africa.
But Raja feels there will be a change in attitudes for the second half of the competition which stretches over five weeks and ends on May 24.
“With hardly any international cricket in mid-May the fans will turn towards the IPL and the GEO super sports channel showing the matches is also drumming up the event,” said Raja.
Pakistan captain Younus Khan said the IPL will suffer due to the absence of players from his country.
“Pakistani players are hugely popular in India, so even after the shift, the fans will miss them,” said Younus who withdrew from IPL champions Rajasthan Royals squad this year even before the government’s banning order.
All-rounder Sohail Tanveer played a leading role in Royals’ title triumph, taking 22 wickets to finish as player of the tournament.
Shoaib Akhtar, who despite playing only four games for Kolkata Knight Riders was a huge attraction, still hopes for a return.
“Without Pakistani players the event has lost its charm. I still hope if the franchises want us we would be included,” said Akhtar.