The Pakistan Cricket Board says there are “robust” COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the Pakistan Super League, a month-long domestic Twenty20 competition in Karachi and Lahore, which sees several foreign cricketers participate in a six-team event.
“In the current environment, all international sporting events are continuing because there is more awareness and information about the pandemic,” PCB chairman Ramiz Raja told The Associated Press.
Karachi will host the first leg of the tournament starting on Thursday before the competition moves to Lahore on February 10. Lahore will also host the playoffs and the final on February 27.
Last year, the PSL was postponed in March after six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a biosafe bubble, and the competition was moved to Abu Dhabi in June.
The PCB has hired the same company for the seventh edition of its major event that successfully created the bio-secure arrangements in Abu Dhabi last year.
“The PCB, despite delivering 267 matches in 10 domestic events in 2021, takes nothing for granted,” Raja said. “We have designed and implemented robust health and safety protocols for the well-being of all (PSL) participants.”
The virus already caused concerns before the first game between defending champions Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings starts on Thursday at the National Stadium.
At least three players, including Peshawar Zalmi’s wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal, and five supporting staffers tested positive last Saturday as the teams began to rally in Karachi.
The tournament’s technical committee has allowed Peshawar to sign Pakistani international Imam-ul-Haq as Akmal’s replacement.
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 positive cases, the stadiums will now only allow 25 percent capacity, about 8,000 fans.
Pakistan has reported 1,381,152 cases and 29,122 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Unlike the past two seasons when the PSL was played over two legs, the PCB has no plans to postpone or cancel the event this year in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks among the players. The aim is to restart the competition after a week-long break by resetting the bio bubble.
While there are 20 players each in the six teams, in the event of an outbreak, the games can continue if there are 13 players available on each side.
Despite the coronavirus threat surrounding the PSL, Raja sees the presence of foreign players as a positive aspect for Pakistan, which will host four major countries this year, including Australia for the first time since 1998.
Johnson Charles from the West Indies, Colin Munro from New Zealand, Rilee Rossouw from South Africa and Chris Jordan and Alex Hales from England are some of the foreign cricketers who will play in the PSL.
The PSL has seen several Pakistani cricketers emerge internationally over the years, including bowlers like Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali and Shahnawaz Dahani. And Raja feels the level of close competition between the six franchises will increase.
“The PSL has cemented its reputation and profile as one of the most competitive and challenging leagues, making 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 2021 ODI and T20 cricketers respectively, and Shaheen Afridi winning the prestigious Sir Garfield award for cricketer of the year.
All three will lead 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 the legendary Shahid Afridi among his players – will be captained by former Pakistani skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed.