The already fractious relationship between India and Pakistan has been soured even further after 11 Pakistani cricketers were snubbed in the auction for the upcoming 2010 Indian Premier League tournament.
The IPL, the biggest-grossing tournament of its kind, attracts players from around the world, lured by large pay cheques and the chance to play in front of a massive international television audience. But while the owners of the eight competing Indian franchises were this week happy to spend huge sums of money to secure the services of lesser-known cricketers, not one of the Pakistani players attracted a single bid, despite many of the squad having played in Pakistan's World Twenty20-winning side last summer.
Snubbed stars included Shahid Afridi, who not only captained Pakistan's Twenty20 team last year, but also appeared on billboards advertising the IPL. "I'm stunned by the omission and I'm obviously very disappointed," Mr Afridi said. "The way I see it, the IPL and India have made fun of us and our country."
Pakistan's Sports Binister, Aijaz Hussain Jakhrani, said he had lodged a complaint with India. "I have recorded a protest over the unjust and discriminatory treatment meted out to the Pakistani cricketers," he told AFP. "It is indeed a matter of disrespect to Pakistani heroes."
The Bollywood actress and one-time Big Brother contestant, Shilpa Shetty, who is a part-owner of the Rajasthan Royals team, claimed owners had been unsure whether Pakistani players would be able to obtain visas. But another franchise official – who said there had been no formal ban by the Indian authorities – told the Hindustan Times: "The IPL is a commercial proposition, owned by businessmen and no one wanted to risk upsetting the government."
The former Pakistani cricketing great, Javed Miandad, said it was inconceivable so many of the players – like fast bowler Sohail Tanvir, who had the best figures of any bowler when he played for the Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008 – would not have been sought after. "It's nothing less than humiliation – not only of our cricketers but the whole nation," Mr Miandad told the Associated Press. "How can you ignore Afridi and Tanvir in Twenty20 cricket? The International Cricket Council should have made it mandatory that at least five cricketers from all the Test-playing countries will participate in the IPL."
The relationship between India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars since partition in 1947, has never been warm. But following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the slow but steady peace process was put on hold, and the political stalemate has affected everything from sport to trade and even international water agreements.
The failure of the IPL to bid for any of its players will only add to Pakistan's growing sense of sporting isolation. Last year, after India pulled out of a tournament with Pakistan citing security concerns, their replacements, Sri Lanka, were attacked by militants in Lahore. Pakistan was then stripped of its role as a co-host of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which it was due to hold with India and Bangladesh.