The Pakistan Cricket Board says “robust” COVID-19 health and safety protocols are in place ahead of its month-long domestic Twenty20 competition in Karachi and Lahore, with several foreign cricketers participating in a six-team event.
“In the present-day environment, all international sport events are going ahead because there is more awareness and information about the pandemic,” PCB chairman Ramiz Raja told The Associated Press on the eve of Pakistan Super League.
Karachi will host the first leg of the tournament beginning Thursday before the league moves to Lahore on Feb. 10. Lahore will also host the playoffs and the final on Feb. 27.
Last year the PSL was postponed in March after six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a bio-secure bubble, and the league was switched to Abu Dhabi in June. The PCB has hired the same company for the seventh edition of its marquee event which successfully created the bio-secure arrangements in Abu Dhabi last year.
“The PCB, despite delivering 267 matches in 10 domestic events in 2021, is not taking anything for granted,” Raja said. “We have designed and put in place robust health and safety protocols for the well-being of all (PSL) participants.”
The virus has already caused concerns before the first game between defending champion Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings kicks off at National Stadium on Thursday. At least three players, including Peshawar Zalmi’s wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal, and five support staff members tested positive last Saturday when the teams began to assemble in Karachi.
The tournament’s technical committee has allowed Peshawar to include Pakistan international Imam-ul-Haq as a replacement for Akmal.
A spike in positive COVID-19 cases in Karachi forced authorities to impose lockdowns in high-risk areas. The government had initially allowed full crowds in the PSL, but due to the spike in the positive cases, now only 25% of spectators will be allowed inside the stadium which means around 8,000 fans will be allowed to attend.
Pakistan has reported 1,381,152 cases and 29,122 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began in 2020.
Unlike the last two seasons when the PSL was played over two legs, the PCB has no plans to either postpone or cancel the event this year in case there are COVID-19 outbreaks among the players. It has been planned that the league will restart after a week’s break by resetting the bio-bubble from scratch.
While there are 20 players each in the six teams, in the event of any outbreaks, matches will be allowed to go ahead if 13 players are available on each side.
Despite the threat of virus surrounding the PSL, Raja sees the presence of foreign players as a positive aspect for Pakistan which will be hosting four major countries this year, including Australia for the first time in Pakistan since 1998.
Johnson Charles of West Indies, New Zealand’s Colin Munro, Rilee Rossouw of South Africa and Chris Jordan and Alex Hales of England are some of the foreign cricketers who will be playing in the PSL.
The PSL has seen several Pakistan cricketers emerge internationally over the years with bowlers like Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali and Shahnawaz Dahani among them. And Raja sees the level of close competition among the six franchises to grow.
“The PSL has strengthened its reputation and profile as one of the most competitive and challenging leagues, which makes it exciting to follow locally and internationally,” he said.
Pakistan won three major ICC awards last week with Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan being voted ODI and T20 cricketers of 2021, respectively, and Shaheen Afridi taking the prestigious Sir Garfield award for cricketer of the year.
All three will be leading their teams in the PSL with Babar captaining Karachi Kings, Rizwan defending the title by leading Multan while Shaheen has been named as the skipper of Lahore Qalandars.
Islamabad United will be led by Shadab Khan and Quetta Gladiators — with legendary Shahid Afridi among its players — will be captained by former Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed.