The Indian Premier League (IPL), which owns and runs the exciting T20 version of cricket in South Asia, has been caught without an abdominal guard against a particularly vicious ball headed straight for you know what. After frothing a bit and folding up in a fetal position for a while, the IPL’s boss Lalit Modi has found enough composure to claim that there was no pressure on him from the Indian government against buying any Pakistani players during the just concluded auction.
The way the IPL works is that franchisees make bids for various cricketers from around the world during an actual auction. The players are bought for a season for a particular team for a price that the bidder considers worthwhile. The players from Pakistan, being the current T20 world champion, should logically have had no problem finding not just straight bids but even competing bids. Instead the auction failed to sell a single player, causing not just an affront to the country and its players, but also bringing into question the whole IPL. Allegations that the incendiary bilateral politics between India and Pakistan had subverted the spirit of a great sport with a near religious following in South Asia have refused to go away.
It is almost as if all the franchisees ganged up under an unseen hand to deliberately reject all Pakistani players. It is possible that the auction of the Pakistani players failed purely on commercial merit, which is ridiculous considering that by the current reckoning they constitute the best team. That left a lot of room for speculation. I do not for a second believe that the franchisee decision was entirely commercial. It was manifestly political and taken under subtle political pressure. They may have reasoned that since the presence of the Pakistani players would be fraught with political sensitivities, it may upend their return on investment. But make no mistake; it was a political decision in its primary motivation.
Now that a lot of Indians have reacted unfavorably to the biased auction, the IPL franchisees may be trying to backtrack and rectify the situation. Modi has indicated that there is still room for some Pakistani players to be bought in some teams. Actor Shah Rukh Khan, who owns one of the IPL teams, has said he would have liked to buy at least one Pakistani player but left it unsaid why he did not do so. That could mean only one thing—the franchisees were in concert in favor of the decision to ignore the Pakistanis altogether for reasons outside cricket.