KARACHI: The Pakistan Cricket Board has pulled all stops to ensure the seventh edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League goes ahead according to plan.
If it doesn’t, its fate will be nothing other than a cancellation.
And with the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the raging wave of the coronavirus in the country, the PCB has prepared itself for virtually every scenario that can possibly emerge during the PSL.
The final — set to be held at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore — in any case, has to be played on February 27, exactly a month after the opening game at the National Stadium here.
That’s the only window the PCB has. Pakistan have a busy international calendar this year, with the likes of Australia, England and New Zealand set to tour and the T20 World Cup scheduled in Australia during October.
“We are working around three mottos; the show must go on, Har haal main cricket and Hum tou khelengay,” PCB Chief Operating Officer and PSL tournament director Salman Naseer told a small gathering of reporters including Dawn here on Friday. To meet its target of holding the tournament as per schedule, the PCB is also prepared to compromise the restriction for franchises of fielding four foreign players in the playing eleven.
“Even if that number goes down to one or zero due to Covid cases, we’ll still go ahead,” said Salman, with PCB later announcing on Friday that three players and five support staff had tested positive among 250 tests conducted during pre-arrival testing.
The brand value of the PSL, Salman said, did not depend too much on the foreign players. “Local players are our stars and the 200 per cent increase in PSL’s brand value shows that,” he said.
It has already been decided that franchises will need to have at least 13 players available for matches to go ahead.
In a scenario where the players at the teams’ disposal are less than 13, they will be allowed to pick from a pool of 25 players who went unpicked in the PSL Players Draft and Supplementary Draft earlier.
Similarly, production and broadcast teams have also been directed by the PCB to create their own reserve pool.
“There can be situations where important production personnel go down due to the virus,” Salman said. “To ensure production quality isn’t affected, we’ve asked them to have a reserve pool as well.”
The broadcasting and production crew, however, won’t be living in a bio-secure bubble as strict as the one in which the players and support staff will be kept.
The PCB has booked a full hotel for the players, support staff, security personnel and certain officials. Salman said interaction between teams will not be allowed while individuals living in the bubble have been given strict directions regarding physical contact indoors.
In open air, the players are allowed to be in physical contact but have been told to exercise caution where possible.
When the league moves from Karachi to Lahore after the last match here on February 8, they teams and other personnel will transported in chartered flights staying in the bubble created for them at the start of the tournament.
The PCB is also prepared for a situation where there is a virus outbreak despite all these measures.
“If there is an outbreak, the tournament will come to a pause for seven days,” said Salman. “After that the bubbles will be reset and we’ll do double headers to meet our February 27 deadline.”
The PCB COO said individuals who end up committing minor and major breaches in the bio-secure bubble will be penalised.
Even high profile players, who add value to the PSL brand won’t be spared and the penalties would range from fines to match bans to expulsion from the tournament.
To protect players mentally and to ensure their welfare in such a strictly managed environment, Salman said, there are arrangements of indoor games, music and other activities in the hotels as well.
While there will be doctors available on each floor, there will also be a separate medical team to which players can look up to mental and physical concerns.
“We also have some hospitals on board in case players are required to visit them. The hospital managements will ensure bio-secure bubble environment is maintained,” said Salman.
The last edition of the PSL had to be organised over two legs after breaches in the Covid bubble in Karachi by some members of a certain franchise side.
While the mishap resulted in financial loss for the PCB, it was also a reality check for the board about its capability to hold a tournament of the PSL’s magnitude in the pandemic times. This year, the national cricket governing body will be tested again.
“Last year the restrictions weren’t as strict as they are this time and the transition in and out of the bubbles will be smoother. When the teams checked into the hotels yesterday, they appreciated the smooth process, and you know they don’t appreciate the PCB for many things,” the official quipped.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2022