Karachi: The resignation of the head of Pakistan's proposed new Twenty20 league has plunged the much-hyped tournament into further chaos, complicating efforts to bring international cricket back to the country.
No international matches have been played in Pakistan since March 2009, when militants attacked the Sri Lankans during a Test match in the eastern city of Lahore, killing eight Pakistanis and wounding seven visiting players.
The Pakistan Super League (PSL), originally due to start on March 26, was seen as a crucial step towards encouraging overseas players to return - the Pakistani board hoping they would be enticed by the promise of up to $100,000 for two weeks' work.
But last Friday the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) postponed the tournament with no indication of when it might be played, claiming the "overwhelming" response from players and sponsors meant they needed more time to organise.
And late Wednesday the PSL's managing director Salman Sarwar Butt resigned, leaving plans for the tournament in tatters. The PSL, modelled on the hugely successful Indian Premier League, was unveiled on January 10 with much fanfare, with plans for five teams playing in 23 matches over two weeks.
It said the event would be worth more than $100 million in total over five years. On the same day 92 people were killed in two suicide bombings in the worst-ever attack on Shiite Muslims in Pakistan, where sectarian violence has reached record levels.
Despite dire warnings about security from the international players' association, the PCB claimed it had signed up 80 overseas players - though it refused to release any of their names.
The Federation of International Cricketers' Associations said the security situation in Pakistan was unmanageable, prompting Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa to hint they might not release their players for the PSL.
Some observers in Pakistan believe the competition was never viable, given the almost daily bombings and shootings by Islamist and sectarian militants.
Former international captain Rashid Latif said the indefinite postponement of the league was a major blow to efforts to revive international cricket.
"Talking of selling a team for $2 million in our security situation was not viable and not a reality," he said.
In a statement the PCB said it was working to find suitable dates for the PSL "in the near future". But it will be hard pressed to find a slot, with the sixth edition of the more lucrative and attractive Indian Premier League from April 3 to May 26.
Ehsan Mani, former president of the International Cricket Council, said overseas players would have been stopped by their boards from playing even if the tournament had gone ahead.
There was a double humiliation last year when PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf twice persuaded Bangladesh to tour, only to have the visits cancelled on safety grounds - first by the Dhaka high court and then by the Bangladesh board.
"The PCB should liaise with the government and build confidence of the various embassies, whose advice to their nationals plays a key role in keeping them away from Pakistan," Mani said.
"Once these embassies endorse that Pakistan is really safe to tour, then only foreign teams will consider touring us, so anything before that will be a waste of time and money."
Media reports also suggested the interior ministry was not in favour of hosting the league before the general election, which is due in May and will have the security services at full stretch.