It is a queered pitch. The Kashmir Premier League made headlines even before it has begun. Not for cricket, but the politics around the name that looms large over India-Pakistan relations. Former England cricketer Monty Panesar pulled out of the tournament citing “political tensions'' on Monday. Earlier, South African coach Herschelle Gibbs had complained about the BCCI “threatening'' him over wanting to take part in the tournament. The game has just begun!

“Completely unnecessary of the @BCCI to bring their political agenda with Pakistan into the equation and trying to prevent me playing in the @kpl_20. Also threatening me saying they won’t allow me entry into India for any cricket related work. Ludicrous” tweeted Gibbs on July 31.

While Gibbs has outed what seems to be the BCCI working behind the scenes, Panesar has been a little more diplomatic. “I have decided not to participate in the KPL because of the political tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir issues. I don't want to be in the middle of this, it would make me feel uncomfortable,'' he tweeted.

Subsequently, in an interview, Panesar chose to be more direct about BCCI pressure, which is immense as it is the richest cricket board in the world. This is not the first time that cricket between India and Pakistan has been used to make a diplomatic point. From Pakistani dictator general Zia ul Haq arriving in Jaipur unexpectedly to watch “a good game of cricket'' in 1987 to deliver to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi a message that Pakistan had a 'bomb' to prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's attempts, cricket between the two countries has never been just a simple game.

A T20 six-team format, the KPL will be played in the Muzaffarabad stadium. And it might be the series that Prime Minister Imran Khan has been waiting for to make his Kashmir point. More than just about a game of cricket, the KPL is an attempt by Pakistan to score a major diplomatic point, one that India will be determined to stop.

In true cricket style, India has bowled a googly by letting the richest cricket board deal with the players rather than attacking the tournament. Can the tournament be a success if prominent players back out? Despite there being no cricket between the neighbours, the KPL was bound to make New Delhi see red. India has always been clear that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is “an integral and inalienable part of India'' under illegal occupation of Pakistan.

“Pakistan has no locus standi on these Indian territories,'' said spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs Arindam Bagchi on Thursday, responding to a question on the recently held elections. The battle is now in the ICC's court. The BCCI has written to the ICC to not recognise the KPL as Kashmir is a disputed territory. And the Pakistan Cricket Board has chosen to express its unhappiness too at what it describes as a breach of "international norms and the spirit of the gentleman's game by interfering in internal affairs of cricket boards”.

The KPL is scheduled to start on August 6, and the final will be played on August 17. (The timing past Independence day of both countries is strategic.) Six teams play for a win, and each team is named after the districts in the region, for example, Mirpur and Rawalkot.

The holding of the league also comes at a time when Prime Minister Imran Khan's party has won majority seats in elections in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The last time the elections were held were in 2016. In the results declared last week, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) won 25 seats in the 45-seat assembly. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won 11 seats, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)—which had the majority last time—won just six. As always, an election fought in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is about the situation across the border. This time too, Article 370 became the focus of the campaign. Khan might have predictably won the majority seats—the party that is in power nationally wins the elections in PoK—but the campaign gave the opposition a chance to criticise him.

Holding the KPL—the first physical tournament in that part of the world—was Pakistan's attempt to use a game that is an obsession in the subcontinent to give its stance on Kashmir legitimacy. With international focus on these matches, it would give Pakistan a chance to run with the Kashmir narrative. This was not likely to sit well with India.

India had “lodged a strong protest'' with Pakistani authorities on “this cosmetic exercise'', referring to the polls in PoK. “Such an exercise can neither hide the illegal occupation by Pakistan nor the grave human rights violation, exploitation and denial of freedom to people in these occupied territories,'' said Bagchi at the weekly briefing last week. The KPL might prove to be the toughest pitch in the world. Not just for cricketers.