AS the world strives to grapple with an unprecedented health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, every aspect of life is getting hampered due to the pandemic and cricket is not an anomaly in this regard. The entire sports industry is feeling the heat as the crisis unfolds and Pakistan’s biggest sporting event’s future has also been thrown into doubt.
Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in China just before the start of Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020 season and under the looming threat of an outbreak in Pakistan, the show went on with a cloud of uncertainty that hovered over the tournament and PCB almost got over the line by managing to host 30 matches and just the deciders to go.
Amidst growing fears about the virus especially after confirmation of 21 coronavirus cases in Pakistan, PCB officials decided to stage the final leg fixtures behind closed doors but the situation deteriorated rapidly, forcing the PSL 5 to be abridged as the playoffs were scrapped from the original plan and semifinals were brought in instead but even that move didn’t help as the event eventually got called off owing to a myriad of issues that includes travel and border restrictions for the overseas signings.
What changed the entire scenario quite dramatically was Alex Hales’ suspected case of coronavirus and the steady increase in the number of cases in Pakistan over the last couple of weeks. Therefore, the grave danger of the virus spread in stadiums made the management swiftly realise the gravity of the situation and just two hours before the first semifinal between Multan Sultans and Peshawar Zalmi in Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, an abrupt news of PSL five postponement made the headlines.
The competition began to lose its charm and sheen with the exodus of several top-flight overseas players coupled with empty stadiums which did not bode well for the franchises and the fans alike but having said that, the efforts from PCB to propel the tournament to its logical conclusion were laudable.
In spite of the fact that the first homecoming entire season of PSL got halted during the business end, the PSL 5 nevertheless remains a successful event and a real feather in all involved stakeholders’ cap.
After a grueling four-year wait, the league finally moved out of the Arabian Peninsula and returned to the place of its inception. Vociferous crowds thronged the stadiums in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi to witness several epic battles and made the event a roaring success. Fans got entertained royally as we saw several high-voltage clashes that went right down to the wire and we didn’t know till the very end about which team is going to make into the final four which is a testament to the competitiveness in the league.
That said, the future of PSL 2020 is up in the air because, with a packed Future Tours Programme, it will be difficult to resume play and assemble full-strength squads again in the new window at some time of this year.
PCB would be hoping to stage the marquee clashes once the situation gets under control to avoid financial repercussions in the form of ticket sales losses that account for about Rs200 million and the hit from sponsorships.
Once the region overcomes the deadly coronavirus, Indian Premier League (IPL) will most likely be up and running. Next up, Pakistan is scheduled to tour the Netherlands for a three-match ODI series and then for two T20Is against Ireland in July before partaking in the all-important Test series against England which will run till the end of August. The England tour will be followed by Asia Cup in September and by then preparations for PSL 6 draft will be on the top of PCB’s agenda.
Thereon, all teams will be focusing on the T20 World Cup in Australia which is set to get underway from October 18. Therefore, squeezing in the PSL knockout games and arranging the logistics in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis will be a herculean task as the entire world steps into unchartered territory without clearly knowing the far-reaching ramifications of the pandemic.
The most convenient option though is to declare the table-toppers — Multan Sultans — as the winners of the fifth edition and settle the matter here and now but this could invite the wrath of other franchise owners who all want to get a fair chance to compete and they all want to get their hands on the coveted PSL trophy.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020