The Indian Cricket League (ICL) pulled off a veritable coup on Wednesday by signing as many as eight Pakistani players, including Md Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, all of who have played for Pakistan in the recent past. But all those signings together could be the mere tip of the iceberg; there's something much bigger up ahead.
According to sources, Shoaib Akhtar's joining the ICL is virtually a done deal and the flamboyant fast bowler was "expected to sign on the dotted line sometime over the next week."
The sources also revealed that the Rawalpindi Express, who, along with his former skipper Inzamam ul-Haq and the inimitable Brian Lara, would be the biggest catch of the League, has been offered a contract that is "about 25 per cent more" than what New Zealand quick Shane Bond is rumoured to have been signed for.
The grapevine had it that Bond was handed a contract of $800,000 for three years, which means Akhtar would get about $ 10,00000 for three years.
Apart from what would be a very lucrative offer, Shoaib, who has also been linked to the Indian Premier League, could look to the ICL as an escape from his continually strained relationship with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
Akhtar was excluded from the ODI squad that played Zimbabwe recently and has also not been included in category A of the PCB's central contract list. The Board further threatened him saying he wouldn't be eligible for IPL if he didn't sign a retainer with them and get No Objection Certificate.
Akhtar, predictably had his bit to say. "Why do I need a NOC from them? I have no contract with them. So why this NOC condition and secondly, this is a matter between me and the IPL and not the board," PTI quoted him as saying on Wednesday, leading to confusion about what the fast bowler was up to.
Meanwhile, Zee vice-president Ashish Kaul, told HT that the second phase of the major ICL tournaments would begin mid-March. "We are looking at finalising things before making an announcement."
He refused to comment on the Shoaib issue, but said that top players were attracted to the ICL not just because of money or disillusionment with the existing system but also because it gave them an opportunity to be "part of a school of sorts and pass on whatever they had learnt to youngsters".
"Our focus is very different from the IPL," he said. "We really want to make a difference to younger players, give them exposure to playing with big names like Lara, inspire them and also get them to learn from them.
“There's no better way to learn cricket than on the field, from players who've done it and this is what we aim to do, to create a 'cricketing school of sorts' for youngsters."