New Delhi: The participation of Pakistan cricketers in the IPL is dependent on the resumption of India-Pakistan cricket ties, according to the IPL chairman and BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla. He was speaking to Geo News channel on Sunday, the day Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh held talks in New Delhi.
"No one is against Pakistan or Pakistani players in India, or else we would not have allowed Pakistani commentators or umpires in IPL 5," Shukla said. "Everything is tied to the resumption of bilateral cricket ties between the two countries. Once that happens, I think everything will happen automatically. The IPL functions under the BCCI and when bilateral relations resume between the two boards, the IPL will also not be a problem for Pakistani players."
Cricket relations between India and Pakistan are deadlocked at the moment, with the BCCI generally shifting the onus of resuming bilateral ties to the government. However, several reports following the meeting between the countries' political leaders suggest that progress in cricketing relations depends on the two boards. The Telegraph said that an "almost certain" November visit by the Indian prime minister to Pakistan would be the barometer of ties between the two countries.
Pakistan cricketers took part in the first IPL in 2008. However, the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November that year suspended bilateral cricket ties between the two countries and also, without any official announcement, the involvement of Pakistan's cricketers in the IPL. Shukla said the two boards were in touch over the issue and that new PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf had "made all the right moves to get the ball rolling". "But until something definite happens it would not be proper for me to comment on when we can resume playing cricket again," Shukla said.
The major obstacles to the resumption of bilateral ties, Shukla said, was India's hectic international calendar and the security situation in Pakistan - the country has not hosted a Test team following the March 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore. "The hectic international schedule of the Indian team is an issue and we have to see and find a slot for even the Pakistan team to tour India. Secondly, and more importantly, the PCB needs to do something and convince other cricket nations at the level of the International Cricket Council that it is safe and secure to play in Pakistan...they need to do more and get the support of leading nations like Australia, England and South Africa."
Following Pakistan's tour to India in 2007, it is India's turn to tour Pakistan but Shukla made it clear that a series on neutral territory - where Pakistan have hosted four of their 'home' series since the Lahore attack - is not an option for the moment. "We feel that it is no use if both countries play at a neutral venue. It serves no purpose. If we play, it must be in each other's countries. We have no problems touring Pakistan but first the PCB needs to win the confidence of the ICC and member boards."
The ICC's Future Tours Programme has several periods marked out for series between India and Pakistan, but doesn't mention any details - a tentative number of games and which formats.
The PCB has also been pushing for the inclusion of teams from Pakistan in the Champions League T20, where the previous winner received $2.5m. "Obviously we want our team to be there and play like other teams are," Subhan Ahmed, the PCB's chief operating officer, told ESPNcricinfo. "The decision to invite us is something that is in their [the organisers - India, Australia and South Africa] hands. We can't force them. We had widely raised this issue on various forums but I believe the only difficultly we are facing is the bilateral ties with India and everything is connected with it."
"Once the bilateral ties between Pakistan and India are revived, all these issues will automatically be resolved. So our priority is to revive Indo-Pak cricket." The inaugural Champions League T20 was to be held in 2008 but was cancelled due to the Mumbai attacks.
Commenting on the possible involvement of Pakistan's Twenty20 champions, Sialkot Stallions, in the Champions League, Shukla said, "If we [are talking] about the Champions League, then just wait and see for a few months. I don't think we should be pessimistic about Indo-Pak bilateral relations, remain optimistic ... Pakistani players have special talents and everyone likes to see them play. But we need to be patient and wait for good things to happen."