KARACHI: The HBL Pakistan Super League 6 was indefinitely postponed on Thursday after three more players reported positive for coronavirus (Covid-19), taking the toll of affected cases to seven so far in the franchise-based T20 league with further casualties likely to emerge as the tests are carried out.

The latest victims of the virus are from the teams of Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars who were due to play in Thursday’s evening game. Pakistan players Hasan Ali and Hussain Talat added to the woes of Islamabad who had already Fawad Ahmed the first case to emerge and Lewis Gregory testing positive, while Lahore’s overseas cricketer Tom Abell — who had yet to make his PSL debut — was also put in quarantine following the results of the PCR tests.

Tom Banton of Quetta Gladiators and Kamran Khan, the fielding coach at Karachi Kings, had earlier also tested positive for Covid-19, while Lahore’s Mohammad Faizan had already been put in a 10-day isolation before start of the sixth edition after he showed symptoms of the virus.

The Karachi leg was scheduled to conclude on Sunday (March 7), before the second leg, including the playoffs, was to begin at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore from March 10.

The decision of the postponement — following completion of 14 out of scheduled 20 league-round fixtures in Karachi — was taken after Pakistan Cricket Board’s top officials held an emergency virtual meeting with the owners of the six participating franchises early on Thursday morning.

PCB seriously mulling options of outsourcing the league in future: Wasim Khan

Explaining the reasons behind putting off the remainder of the tournament with 14 preliminary-round matches and the playoffs still be played, PCB chief executive Wasim Khan told reporters at the National Stadium that the decision was taken unanimously while taking all stakeholders into confidence.

Flanked by PCB marketing director Babar Hameed and medical director Dr Sohail Saleem during the media conference at the National Stadium, Wasim admitted the breaches of the bio-secure bubbles had been unabatedly committed while saying that going forward is to outsource the PSL.

“It has been a tough day for Pakistan cricket because this was the last thing we all wanted. We are now seriously mulling options of outsourcing the HBL PSL in the future because what had transpired is something not acceptable at all,” a visibly perturbed Wasim remarked.

“But this isn’t the time to engage in a blame game as to who is to blame because we all had a responsibility to police and self-police the [bubble] environment. But unfortunately it didn’t since we were not able to undertake the task effectively enough, and hence we find ourselves trapped in a very tough situation,” Wasim added.

“We had virtual meeting with the [franchise] owners before deciding that it was in best of interest of everyone involved with the HBL PSL to postpone the event. We gave them [owners] a couple of options. The first being to halt proceedings for five days until we are able to make sense of what has been going on and whether we can move forward. The other solution that was unanimously accepted with a strong consensus that since it was untenable to carry on with the tournament to postpone it with immediate effect.”

The announcement of postponing the PSL 6 was initially came through a media release, which read “… considering the health and well-being of all participants is paramount, the PCB has decided to postpone the HBL Pakistan Super League 6 with immediate effect and the decision made after seven cases were reported in the competition. The PCB will focus on the safe and secure passage of all participants, and arrange repeat PCR tests, vaccines and isolation facilities to the six participating sides.”

But long before the postponement call was made, Karachi Kings’ all-all-rounder Dan Christian — who bowled the most expensive over in the PSL history when he conceded 32 runs against Peshawar Zalmi during Wednesday’s afternoon match — withdrew overnight from the competition over fears of catching the virus and was due to fly back to Australia.

Wasim said the biggest hurdle to seek a window in what is a very busy for Pakistan in international cricket — with the T20 World Cup scheduled in India during October-November — with the tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe coming up from the last week of March, followed by a white-ball trip to England before the PCB hosts New Zealand and England ahead of the T20 World Cup with series against West Indies tentatively planned for December while Australia are due to visit Pakistan next February.

“It would be a big challenge to find space to complete PSL 6 and we’ve got one or two windows during which we can resume the tournament. Last year, it was different in the sense that we had already finished the [30-match] league segment when PSL V had been to put off when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Somehow were able to reschedule the playoffs in November but here we are talking about a major chunk of fixtures to get through,” Wasim pointed out. “Somehow or the other, we will find a window down the line before the year concludes.”

The PCB official minced no words in saying while everything was being done to minimise mishaps, breaches of Covid-19 protocols was extremely disappointing.

“If you look back we had a minor breach at the beginning [the case of Faizan] and we did everything in our domain to control the damage, but it wasn’t taken that seriously. It’s a give-and-take situation because when rules and regulations are flouted the way they were then one has to admit that breaches were taking place when it was clear that it was a collective effort to ensure the tournament goes smoothly.”

The spate of bio-secure bubble breaches was several and in some cases, some of the big names of Pakistan cricket were reportedly breaking rules repeatedly even to the point that they were having special meals either prepared or ordered for them outside of the team’s hotel, and meeting people who were outside the bubble environment.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2021

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