LONDON: The return of Abdul Razzaq in the Pakistan squad here on Friday marked the beginning of the end of what is one of the darkest chapters in national cricket.
From the end of 2007 till last month, 22 of Pakistani cricketers defected to the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) and were banished from “all cricket” by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). Several of those players like Razzaq, Mohammad Yousuf, Imran Nazir, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Mohammad Sami were still in their prime when they switched allegiance to the cash-rich Twenty20 league.
Their departure left the already struggling Pakistan team in even worse shape. The vacuum left by some of those players was not really filled as Pakistan continued to show weaknesses in various areas with their openers struggling and their bowling line-up failing to show much spark.
The situation was accurately summed up by Pakistan captain Younis Khan here at Lord’s on Thursday evening when he made it clear that Pakistan have suffered a lot because of the ICL fiasco.
“(Because of the ICL problem) we don’t have many players available,” said Younis. “If it’s up to me, I’ll just grab all those guys and put them in my team,” he added.
The ICL that was bankrolled by Indian billionaire Subhash Chandra’s Zee Telefilms, attracted players from all over the world but it was from Pakistan that it managed to lure the biggest number of cricketers, most of them were regarded among the game’s biggest stars.
Players like Mohammad Yousuf, who had broken Sir Viv Richards’ long-standing record of the highest number of Test runs in a calendar year before switching to the ICL, could walk into any team in the cricket world.
Pakistan’s cricket authorities, however, thought otherwise. Under the leadership of Nasim Ashraf, the former PCB chairman, Pakistan showed zero tolerance for ICL, treating them like untouchables and had harsher punishment for them than even their dope offenders. “If you will join the ICL, you cannot play cricket in and for Pakistan for the rest of your lives,” was the message that was sent out to the rebels.
But their numbers continued to swell and there came a time when some experts started suggesting that Pakistan could make a stronger team from the players that defected to the ICL than the actual national side.
It was widely anticipated that things would change under the rule of Ijaz Butt, the former Pakistan Test cricketer who replaced Ashraf as the PCB chief last fall.
However, Butt decided against changing the Board’s policies against the ICL and it was only after an order by the Sindh High Court (SHC) earlier this year that the ICL-linked players were allowed to feature in domestic events.
Pakistan’s shock defeat in the three-match one-day series at home this January made it clear that the national team was short on both talent and experience. Shoaib Malik, who was supposed to shepherd Pakistan into a new era, was sacked and replaced by Younis.
Malik had little sympathy for the ICL rebels as he considered players like Yousuf and Razzaq as threats to his captaincy. Younis, thankfully, wasn’t insecure and pushed his weight behind the return of the ICL players.
But it was the current economic recession in India more than anything that finally paved the path for the return of the rebels in the Pakistan ranks. Unwilling to continue its expensive battle with the Indian cricket board (BCCI), the ICL owners decided to release its players allowing the likes of Razzaq and Yousuf and break ties with the league and make themselves available for national duty.
Razzaq is back in Pakistan’s squad for the ongoing World Twenty20 championship while Yousuf is expected to make his Test return on the tour of Sri Lanka this summer. But what about the others?
“Where is Imran Nazir?” asks Wasim Akram. “With his ability to score the big shots, he would have been a great addition in this team here,” the former Pakistan captain told ‘The News’ on Friday.
With questions like these still being asked, it’s quite clear that some issues still exist. The sooner PCB resolves them, the better it would be for Pakistan cricket.