ABU DHABI - Keeping Pakistan players away from Indian Premier League is a huge blow for cricket-lovers, legendary former Pakistan fast bowler Wasim Akram insists. Pakistani players have been barred from participating in the IPL since 2008 after the Mumbai terror attacks.

Yet Akram feels the time is right for them to be reinstated, for the benefit of subcontinental sports fans. “Whenever India and Pakistan players have played either against each other or together, they have attracted lot of crowds and you get plenty of support, especially in this part of the world. I hope in near future Pakistani players will be able to participate because we have great talent,” said Akram, who is the bowling coach for Kolkata Knight Riders.

Akram went on to highlight what Pakistani players would bring to the Twenty20 league. “Imagine Saeed Ajmal playing. It would have been perfect in these conditions. Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi playing would have been huge. This was their home ground, but let’s see it’s a decision of the cricket boards of both countries has to take. Mixing sports and politics was going to do no good,” he said.

Akram went on to praise the facilities at the Shaikh Zayed Cricket Stadium. “It feels good to be back and seeing the facilities here I must say it is as good as any ground I have seen around the world. The love for the game has been here in UAE for ages with the presence of a huge expat population of Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Australians and New Zealanders. I’m very sure IPL will start off with a bang here. The buzz is already around and my friends were calling and asking for tickets again,” said Akram, who is second only to Sri Lanka’s former off-spin bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan, in terms of One-Day International wickets with 502.

Akram know the wickets here like the back of his hand and his expertise will definitely benefit KKR, he said. “The conditions are similar and probable better wickets with the ball coming nicely on the bat and it will be good for the T20 format. In T20 cricke, people come for entertainment and it is sixes, fours and wickets that makes it interesting,” said Akram. “Things have changed. Believe me, I have played in Sharjah for 21 years and then it was absolutely flat and you could see your face in it. There was no grass at all,” he added.

So what’s the key to bowling on these wickets? “Bowling on these wickets is about different lengths. Sharjah wicket is not that flat but you can play shots and that is where length matters. I would say that is where I will come in handy. This is my fourth year with KKR and I’m looking for a good season from the boys.”

The influence of South African great Jacques Kallis will also be huge for the team, Akram believes. “Kallis’ impact is phenomenal. It is like a part of me that he brings on the table. He is one of the best all-rounders that I have seen in world cricket. His calm demeanour [is great], you can go up to him and he helps all the boys. His presence means a lot and he has an ideal role to play in this KKR team. If he goes in as an opener, he can play 20 overs and the team can play around. He is very useful,” said Akram, who says KKR are a well-balanced side and everyone is raring to go. We have just started our practice and they are a new bunch of boys. What I see in the first two days is that they are in good shape and in good frame of mind. For me, it means they are relaxed and they want to win. Obviously it’s not in our control but I have no doubt we would fight until the last minute. The ability we have in this team, we have every chance [of winning].”