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at the Union Buildings in Pretoria

If only they weren't so... well, Pakistani


It's all kicking off. In India, the Indians have decided not to bid for Pakistan players, sparking fears that those two lovebird lands have an excuse to fight once again; in Manchester, Gary Neville, took England-Argentina relations back to the depths when Maggie Thatcher sent her ships down to the Falklands to ensure that a bunch of cold sheep and penguins remained under the authority of her Majesty the Queen (Elizabeth II, not Freddy).

The 11 Pakistan players up for grabs, Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul amongst them, received not one bid from the Bollywood blusterers otherwise known, to misappropriate and misuse a line from the Housemartins, the people who grinned themselves to death.

Yet, a 20-year old from Port Elizabeth, a wild and woolly fella, who has specialised in knocking over tails in one-day internationals despite bowling a shower or rubbish to the top order (and, tales from PE report, knocking back drinks and getting into trouble for it), manages to attract a bid of over $600 000. That's a lot of money for an undoubtedly talented but still developing kid.

Afridi, on the other hand, would be a better investment. He can smack a ball, bowl some awkward tweakers, has been tested under pressure and has loads of experience. If only he wasn't so, well, "Pakistani".

Maybe if he had shaved that beard, they might have bid for him. Maybe the Indians were just looking for an excuse not to have any of them Pakistanis in their country. For heaven's sakes, who would want a player from the ICC World Twenty20 champions in the IPL?

Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, was miffed: "We are highly disappointed because we were hoping they (the Pakistan players) would play. The IPL had given us the mandate to get permission from our foreign office, to obtain other clearances and to finalise visas.

"We did all this, but it is a surprise that none of them have been taken at the auction. We have been trying to get in touch with the concerned authorities but with no avail. I have asked the sports minister to speak to his counterpart in India about this.

"I agree this is a private event, but to be excluded without giving any reason and without looking at the background is unfair. If they had told us we would have told the boys not to apply at all," said Butt.

You have to feel for the Pakistan cricketers, who have suffered more than any other major cricket nation from the spectre of terrorism.

The terrorist attack in March last year has all but halted all tours to the country. Butt admitted last week that it would be difficult to get any team to visit their country, and thus, like many of their countrymen, they have been forced to go to Dubai to play matches.

And, yet, they still remain competitive. At last year's Champions Trophy, moved from Pakistan to South Africa, they were an impressive force, unless you include that farce of a match they played against India, when, knowing they did not need to win they batted at a ridiculously slow rate. That's what you get with Pakistan, a swing from the brilliant to the daft and dodgy.

In Australia it seemed impossible for them to lose the second Test, they fluffed knocking England over and then collapses in a head. As cricinfo.com reported: "The only thing that matters is that it's them. They could be chasing 90 on cement, with a tennis ball and in 45 degrees heat, but this batting line-up will find a way to get out for less. Who the opponent was didn't really matter. They were called Panickstan here once, long ago. A regurgitation is in order."

It was wrong for India to ignore the Pakistan players in the IPL bid. They need all the exposure they can get if they are to remain a powerful force in cricket.

We've just witnessed a tremendous series between South Africa and England, and before that England and Australia, and, before that, South Africa and Australia. If there were six or seven top nations worthy of being as competitive, then Test cricket would be incredible.

Ignoring Pakistan in any form of the game is just wrong. Wonder what the ICC will have to say about this?


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