Eight Pakistani players, including fast bowlers Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, have signed up to play in the unofficial Indian Cricket League (ICL).
All eight players have represented Pakistan at the international level. Sami, Naved-ul-Hasan, Mushtaq Ahmed, Humayun Farhat, Shahid Nazir, Hasan Raza, Imran Nazir and Riaz Afridi will now join six other Pakistan players who are already part of the league.
The Pakistan board, meanwhile, showed no sign of softening their stance towards players moving to the league. "Our domestic teams and players are like a family for us and we have worked for their welfare and betterment," said Zakir Khan, director operations PCB.
"Players are given salaries and retainers at domestic level now. If after all this these guys want to join the ICL, we wish them well and good luck. Our stance remains the same still [barred from selection for Pakistan and domestic cricket]. A number of these players are in the twilight of their careers anyway."
Sami is the most high-profile signing, having played for Pakistan as recently as December last year, in the third Test against India in Bangalore. Humayun, who kept wicket in one Test and five ODIs, joins his brother Imran, while Raza, who, in 1996 became the youngest Test cricketer at 14 years and 227 days, last played for Pakistan in 2005. Shahid Nazir, a promising fast bowler when he burst onto the scene in 1996, has also been in and out of the side over the last decade.
The youngest of the lot is fast bowler Riaz Afridi, an Under-19 World Cup winner in 2004, who has one Test under his belt. Imran Nazir, a batsman touted as the next big thing after a scintillating hundred in Barbados in 2000, made a comeback last year to the team, but played his last one-dayer against India in November and was overlooked for a central contract by the Pakistan board.
There are reports that Arshad Khan, the offspinner, was to join as well, especially after he resigned from the PCB's junior selection committee. "Arshad Khan, who is the member of the Junior Selection Committee of Pakistan Cricket Board, tendered his resignation yesterday in view of better opportunity elsewhere," a board statement said. "The management has accepted his resignation with immediate effect." However, the Zee Group, who are behind the ICL, insist that this is the final list and that Arshad isn't part of the league as of now.
Inzamam-ul-Haq, Imran Farhat, Taufeeq Umar, Shabbir Ahmed, Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood signed up when the league was launched last year. Mohammad Yousuf decided to join too before pulling out. The Pakistan board subsequently barred the players from representing Pakistan or playing domestic cricket.
"We are extremely pleased to welcome these players to the ICL family," said Kapil Dev, the former Indian captain who is currently the chairman of the executive board for the ICL. "These talented & experienced cricketers will definitely be a great source of learning for the youngsters who will play with them. Under their guidance, the Indian Cricket League players will develop skills comparable to the best of international cricketing talent."