The sixth edition of the PSL in 2021 started with a lot of promise. Though there were a few breaches of protocol and a player testing positive, the tournament was played on home soil, just like the previous edition. It was also one of the few leagues that featured crowds - at 20 per cent capacity - since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.
Things were going smooth, but there was a storm brewing. Fawad Ahmed of Islamabad United tested positive resulting in postponement by a day of the 12th match, scheduled for March 1st.
It seemed like that one case wasn’t enough to pull the curtains on the tournament. But, the pandemic came back to haunt the PCB. On 2nd March, there were three new positive cases, two players and one support staff member. The tournament went ahead despite a breach. On March 4th, three more players tested positive and a few players like Dan Christian flew back home because of the increasing cases. It was a matter of time before PCB had to make the decision and they finally pulled the plug and suspended the remainder of the tournament for an indefinite period.
A PATCHY RESTART
A week after the suspension, the PCB chalked out two windows to continue the unfinished edition. One was in May and another in June first week. However, the June window had its own set of problems. One was the weather and the other was, Pakistan’s scheduled departure to England by the 22nd of June for a white-ball series.
Keeping all of these in mind, the PCB decided to start in early June. Initially, the preferred venue to finish the remainder of the tournament was Karachi. In April, PCB suggested that they would outsource the management of the bio-security bubbles to an international syndicate.
In April there was a surge in the cases in Pakistan. Approximately 5400 new cases were registered per day in the last 15 days of April. On May 1st, the government decided to reduce inbound international flights to Pakistan up to 20 percent from May 5th. This prompted the franchise owners to make a plea to shift the venue from Karachi to the UAE for the remainder of the matches.
Acknowledging the franchise request, the PCB went ahead and approached the Emirates Cricket Club (ECB) to host the remaining PSL matches. They received a delayed response from the ECB and there wasn’t enough clarification on the protocols and exemptions. On 19th May, all six franchise owners concluded that if there wasn’t enough clarification by 20th they would request the board to postpone the tournament further. To the franchise’s delight, the ECB gave a green light to conduct the remaining matches in June.
With everything in place, the teams were allowed to have mini drafts to replace the unavailable players. Rashid Khan was back with Qalandars as a replacement for Shakib Al Hasan. The West Indian middle-order dasher Shimron Hetmyer replaced Mahmudullah. In contrast to the new additions, there were a few setbacks. The veteran allrounder, Shahid Afridi, was ruled out of the remainder sighting a back injury. Anwar Ali had tested positive and was advised isolation for ten days, thus missing the initial flights to Abu Dhabi.
Naseem Shah, the young quick from Quetta was released following a protocol breach. He came in with a negative test result but, from a non-compliant PCR test. On arrival at the hotel for quarantine on May 24th, players were to present a PCR test conducted 48 hours prior. However, Naseem presented a PCR report from a test dated May 18th, which was unacceptable and considered a breach. Reflecting the indecisiveness in the PCB cadre, he was invited to rejoin the bubble and enter the team hotel in Lahore three days later.
With just a few days to the restart, the board hit another roadblock. As reported by ESPNCricinfo, a logistical mishap landed few players including the Quetta skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, in trouble. In a bizarre change of plans, as many as 10 to 12 players and support staff had to fly to Abu Dhabi in a commercial flight instead of a chartered flight on Sunday morning, but they were denied to do so. This was because they failed to clear the restrictions in place on travellers to the UAE. To overcome that hurdle, these players were flown via Bahrain instead of the normal route via Doha later on Sunday night.
With each passing day, the window to conduct the tournament is shrinking. There are still 20 games to go this season if we go by the planned format. If there are no further bottlenecks we are looking at a truncated tournament or a slew of double-headers. Till then everything is as uncertain as the answer to the question: when will this pandemic end?