The only time cricket fanatics got to see the likes of Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar, Shoaib Akhtar and Sourav Ganguly in the same team on a cricket pitch — pre- 2008 — was during an invitational or charity match.
But all that changed with the inception of the Indian Premier League. Boundaries were erased and rivals became teammates. Kolkata Knight Riders fans supported Akhtar just as much as they did Ganguly. That was the beauty of IPL – national sentiments took a backseat and city fever took over.
And yet, thanks to political turmoil between India and Pakistan, players from across the border have not been a part of the IPL after the first season. But Akhtar is surprised that umpires and coaches from Pakistan are very much part of the cash- rich league. Akhtar said that he doesn’t understand why Pakistani officials — umpires and coaching staff — are welcome in IPL while players have been kept out.
“The decision to ban Pakistan players was taken after much discussion and had a lot of sentiments attached to it. I realise that the call was more political than a sporting decision. And honestly, my job is not to debate it,” Akhtar told Mail Today.
“But if Pakistan players aren’t allowed, Pakistan officials and coaches should also be treated equally. It is this inconsistency that surprises me,” he said.
While pundits have often felt that Pakistan players have missed out on the big bucks on offer in the IPL, Akhtar says it’s more about missing out on the experience of being part of one of the most successful T20 leagues in the world. Also, according to him, even the IPL is missing out on a lot of spark.
“It is a catch- 22 situation where both parties are missing out. If you look at it from the players’ point of view, I can assure you that having been a part of the IPL, it is an amazing experience and young Pakistan players would have definitely gained from playing here.
“And if you look at it from the IPL’s point of view, fans and spectators love seeing us play in India. So definitely the IPL is losing out too in our absence. At the risk of sounding biased, I would say the zing is missing (laughs),” the 37- year- old said.
Akhtar definitely knows a thing or two about Indian crowds loving Pakistan players. Who would have ever thought that a jam- packed Eden Gardens would egg Akhtar on as he ran through the Delhi Daredevils outfit comprising the likes of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to hand Kolkata a 23- run win on May 13, 2008. The Pakistan speedster ended with figures of 4 for 11 from his three overs.
Akhtar has always loved the craze that Kolkata fans have had for their sporting heroes.
“Kolkata is very close to my heart. I not only announced my arrival in the Test arena there – bowling Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar out off successive deliveries – but have had several good performances there. I loved how the crowd cheered me on as I ran through the Delhi side even in the IPL match. That is what inspires players to give their best in front of the Kolkata crowd. I was really humbled by the way they appreciated my efforts,” the Rawalpindi Express said.
However, Akhtar is not willing to spill any beans about his stint with the franchise owned by Shah Rukh Khan.
“Sorry, but that is strictly between me and the other players. But I can tell you that I had a wonderful time,” he said.
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