Pakistan's Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi on Tuesday spoke up for his demoralised teammates when he said they were hugely disappointed at being left out of the Indian Premier League (IPL) III.
Pakistani players were tipped to be the hot buys at the IPL auction in Mumbai on Tuesday with eleven of them including Abdul Razzaq, Rana Naveed-Ul Hasan and Imran Nazir -- who were part of the breakaway Indian Cricket League (ICL) -- on the list but they were ignored by the franchisees at the auction.
Afridi said Pakistan players have a good fan following in India and wondered whether the Indian government had influenced the franchisees' decision.
"Cricket is like religion in India and Pakistan. Sport is the only way to bring both the countries together. The Pakistani players have a huge fan base in India and we were expecting the IPL franchisees to take us. It is disappointing," Afridi told a television channel from Hobart.
Pakistani players missed the IPL last year after relations between India and Pakistan soured post-Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008. However, their players were registered for auction this time after a delay in Pakistan government clearing them to play in the Twenty20 tournament and India granting them the visas.
"I do not know why we were overlooked, the government may have put pressure on franchisees not to take us," Afidi said.
IPL chief Lalit Modi, however, did not want to read too much into the Pakistani players missing out.
"There were so many players left out in the auction and each team had its own strategy. I have no reason to believe there could be any other reason," Modi said.
"Availability of the players was a key issue with the franchisees without doubt," he said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by at least two team owners, who categorically stated that the Pakistanis were not favoured because they did not fit into their scheme of things and not because of any security concerns.
"Every team went into the auction with a strategy. Availability of the players for the entire season was one of the factors we took into account," said Kings XI Punjab owner Preity Zinta.
Pakistan's federal minister for sports Ejaz Jhakhrani is upset that none of their cricket players figured at the auction and feels that it is not a good sign for the sport.
Pakistani players heard about their IPL fate when they were travelling Tuesday from Hobart to Brisbane where they begin their One-day series against Australia from Jan 22.
There was a hushed silence when the name of the Pakistan Twenty20 World Cup star player Afridi, who was expected to be a top draw in the auction, was announced first up. After that it was clear that none of the Pakistanis would be picked, though Kolkata Knight Riders bowling coach Wasim Akram was said to be keen on getting fast bowling sensation Mohammad Aamer.
The Akmal brothers -- Kamran, who played for Rajasthan Royals in the first edition, and Umar, who scored a century on his debut against New Zealand -- met the same fate.