New Delhi:- What was suspected after Tuesday's auction of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is now confirmed - there was indeed a consensus among
the team franchisees that none of them would bid for the Pakistani players.
Underlying this consensus were ambiguous signals from officialdom. Union sports minister MS Gill went on record on Wednesday insisting that neither his ministry nor the government had in any way nudged IPL teams to treat Pakistani players as untouchables. However, sources in the Indian cricket board (BCCI) gave TOI details of what transpired in the run-up to the auction, which suggest a more nuanced reality.
According to the sources, the BCCI initially told the franchisees that they could bid for Pakistani players and treat them just like cricketers from any other part of the world. Around the middle of December, the board also assured the teams that it would chip in with help for visas and other diplomatic clearances from the government.
However, when team owners asked the board "what guarantee will the franchisees have?", the board spoke to some government officials in the last week of December and reverted with the message that the government - understandably - couldn't give "any guarantee". The prospects of possible terror attacks clearly contributed to this message.
Hence the IPL teams ignored the Pakistan players in auction as there was "no guarantee" from the government that these players would get visas and other clearances.
Also adding to the jitters of the IPL teams were apprehensions of possible disruption of IPL matches by parties like the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Shiv Sena in the event of Pakistani players participating. With Mumbai slated to host a major chunk of IPL matches in the forthcoming season - including seven home matches of the Mumbai Indians in the league and some knock-out matches - this became a major concern.
In fact, team managements said they were already getting calls from Australian players asking how seriously they should treat the threat by the Shiv Sena that it would not allow Australians to play in India in retaliation for the racist attacks on Indians Down Under.
"Security is a huge factor and it's only the team owners who will have to take up the responsibility. BCCI is not responsible for internal security in the IPL. The board had asked the government if the Pakistanis would be safe in a place like Mumbai. The answer wasn't too convincing with a senior state government functionary pointing out that barely a year had elapsed since the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai," a BCCI insider told TOI on Wednesday.
"There was no direction from the board. The indication from the board was that the Pakistani players are shortlisted and you guys can bid for them. But they may not be welcomed in a place like Mumbai," a team official added. That, it appears, was enough to spook the franchisees into steering clear of Pakistani players.
The reputation of some of the Pakistani cricketers who had participated in the first season of the IPL in 2008 didn't help either. The Delhi Daredevils were put off by Mohd Asif's antics, while Shahid Afridi did not have a great relationship with Deccan Chargers.
The sources also said the 'boycott' of Pakistani players was likely to continue for similar reasons till such time as India and Pakistan resume bilateral cricketing ties. In other words, despite the homilies often trotted out about separating sports and politics, this is one case where politics will remain a determining factor.