A compromise between the PCB and former captain Shahid Afridi is on the cards following a meeting between the board chairman Ijaz Butt and Afridi in Islamabad, bringing to an end soon one of the biggest player-board disputes in recent memory in Pakistan.
"I did meet Afridi in Islamabad but I cannot say any more than that at the moment," Butt told ESPNcricinfo. He refused to indicate if the meeting had any outcome or if there is an announcement to be expected soon. A statement from the board later said no further announcements will be made.
But speculation indicates that through this agreement, Afridi will be given the No Objection Certificates he craves to play for Hampshire and later in the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL). In return, he will withdraw the petition he filed in the Sindh High Court against the board's decision to form a disciplinary committee, cancel his central contract and revoke his NOC and will face any punishment the committee hands out.
In effect, the situation appears to have returned to when Afridi first replied to the board's showcause notice, in which he accepted violating the code of conduct and expressed a willingness to face a hearing if his NOC was reinstated. The next hearing into the case at the Sindh High Court is scheduled for June 16 (Thursday) and it may well be that Afridi withdraws his petition then.
The meeting is believed to have been the result of the intervention of senior political figures; from the very start the dispute took on a political character. Afridi appealed directly to president Asif Ali Zardari, who is the chief patron of the board, to resolve the situation. Afridi met Zardari's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in London and spoke to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as well on the matter.
Rehman Malik, the interior minister and mediator in past disputes, also threw his hat into the ring, promising on Twitter to find a way through. The flurry of activity prompted the board to issue a rare statement expressing displeasure at the intervention, compelling Butt to tell a local newspaper of his exasperation at the number of phone calls he had received on the matter.
Advisors close to Afridi are also believed to have been trying to convince him over the last few days to try and reach a compromise with an administration under whom he has publicly said he will not play again, after having been removed as ODI captain in May. Though Afridi was unconviced at first, the possibility of losing out on the stint with Hampshire - who were looking at Chris Gayle as a replacement option - forced his hand.
"We've remained hopeful all along, and we are very hopeful that an announcement can be made soon," Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire's chairman, told ESPNcricinfo. "But we cannot say anything more definitive beyond that at this stage.
"We had to look at all contingency options, and Chris Gayle's name was one of those names that came into the frame," Bransgrove said. "But we have remained hopeful all along that Afridi would receive clearance to join us for the remainder of the Twenty20 campaign."