KARACHI: The ongoing HBL Pakistan Super League was thrown into a deep turmoil on Friday after four franchises collectively reported that 10 of their overseas players have decided to leave the country in view of the pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus, with Peshawar Zalmi losing all five of their foreign players and a member of the support staff just hours before their scheduled fixture against Multan Sultans started here.

Barely less than a day after the Sindh government advised the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to play the remaining matches of the tournament at the National Stadium behind closed doors — in presence of only the event-accredited personnel — it was learnt that the foreign players in the league have been given option by the PCB to withdraw from the competition.

The players to have opted out are Peshawar Zalmi’s English quartet of Liam Livingstone, Liam Dawson, Tom Banton and Lewis Gregory along with West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite. And when Wahab Riaz came out for the toss for Friday’s game — which commenced at 8:00pm in front of empty stands — the Peshawar nomination team-sheet included the name of their recently-appointed head coach Darren Sammy among the reserves in list of 14 players.

The hard-hitting batsman Alex Hales has withdrawn from further participation for Karachi Kings while his English compatriots Jason Roy and Tymal Mills have pulled out of the Quetta Gladiators squad.

Multan Sultans have now been deprived the services of England batsman James Vince and former South African batsman Rille Rossouw who both left Karachi on Friday, leaving three other England players Moeen Ali, Ravi Bopara and Wayne Madsen alongside Pakistan-born former South African spinner Imran Tahir still available for selection.

League’s final rescheduled for March 18

Among the support staff former England wicket-keeper James Foster — who is one of the coaches with Peshawar Zalmi — has also opted to cut short his stint in the PSL V.

The pullouts came to the fore after the PCB held a conference call with all six team owners on Friday morning, in which it was unanimously decided to allow all players and the support personnel the option to withdraw from the PSL V should they wish.

The two franchises unaffected, at the time of filing the report, by this unforeseen development are Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad United. After playing Karachi Kings here on Thursday night, the Qalandars have gone back to Lahore for their last preliminary-round encounter against Multan Sultans on Sunday afternoon with all their foreign players — Ben Dunk, Chris Lynn, Samit Patel, David Wiese, Dane Vilas and Seekkuge Prasanna — available for selection.

Islamabad United, meanwhile, cancelled a scheduled practice session at the National Stadium on Friday afternoon in preparations for their must-win clash against Karachi Kings on Saturday after the franchise held marathon parleys over the impact of coronavirus with its overseas signings, who according to sources, are all under quarantine.

“So far everyone is here,” the sources confirmed to Dawn without elaborating further, adding: “Our training [session] has been cancelled for today [Friday].”

But it has emerged since then that Dawid Malan, the England left-handed batsman who hasn’t played since Feb 27, was all set to head home later on Friday night, while Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi, Colin Ingram and Dale Steyn are also reportedly thinking on those lines because of the likelihood of flights not available or cancelled.

Quetta Gladiators were caught up in confusion when the first piece of information shared by them was that none of their foreign players had withdrawn after being bombarded with queries only to retract a couple of hours later.

“We can confirm that none of our foreign players have demanded to go back so far and everything is normal in Quetta Gladiators’ camp, But if anything changes, we will give an update,” Quetta media manager Nabeel Hashmi said in a statement.

After almost an hour Nabeel issued another media release which read: “PCB has clarified it in their press release about the players who have now asked to go back. This development took place after our statement.

“The PCB had direct discussion with the players and we weren’t aware of it since Jason Roy and Tymal Mills had requested to rest at the hotel today [Friday]. It’s a rapidly evolving situation and we hope everyone would understand it.”

While the exodus of overseas players has started, there are still some prominent personalities staying on. Among them are Quetta’s long-time mentor Sir Vivian Richards, senior player Shane Watson and fielding coach Julian Fountain; Ex-Zimbabwe stalwart and former England coach Andy Flower, who has done wonders with Multan Sultans, Karachi Kings head coach and ex-Australian batsman Dean Jones and Errol Alcott the Islamabad United’s former Australia team physiotherapist to name a few.

PLAYOFFS SCRAPPED

The PCB, in the meantime, has rescheduled the remaining fixtures of the PSL by substituting the four-match playoffs with the semi-finals on March 17 and the final the next day with all those games scheduled to be staged at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, while curtailing the event by four days and scrapping one match altogether from the originally planned 34, with the consultation of the franchise owners.

Earlier, the playoffs were to be played from March 17 to 22 with the Qualifier in Karachi and the remaining three — the two Eliminators and the final— in Lahore. But now the first semi-final will pit top-placed team in the standings against the fourth-placed side at 2:00pm, while the other semi-final will be between the second and third-placed teams at 7:00pm.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020