Kolkata: The countdown for remaining 20 matches of HBL Pakistan Super League 2021, scheduled to be held in Abu Dhabi from June 5, have begun with teams of the six franchises scheduled to fly into the UAE capital on Wednesday. This is will be second time after 2019 edition that the Sheikh Zayed Stadium will be hosting any PSL matches.
It’s after a gap of two seasons that the UAE, which acted as the home venue for Pakistan to host international teams for 10 years since 2009, will be hosting PSL matches again. The T20 franchise league, incidentally, made a tentative beginning in 2016 in Dubai before gradually shifting base to Pakistan for the last two seasons.
The shifting of the remaining matches were necessitated after the PSL had to be suspended in mid-March with a growing number of Covid-19 positive cases among the teams. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) began working with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) in right earnest with the idea of resuming the league, with the latter managing to get significant exemptions from the UAE government as well as their National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority before they confirmed soon after the Eid holidays that the rest of the tournament will be going ahead in the UAE.
It’s been a win-win situation for the franchises and they are delighted that the entire tournament can now be finished in June, which was the only window possible in this half of the year for the overseas players to make their way back. ‘‘I would like to congratulate the PCB for the work they have done. The UAE had been always there for PCB, be it from the Sharjah days or when our home matches used to be held in the UAE and it was no different this time,’’ Hasan Cheema, Strategy Manager of Islamabad United, told Gulf News.
Asked how challenging was it to convince the overseas players to be a part of the Phase II of the league, Cheema said it was ultimately the players’ call. ‘‘As professionals, they are fully aware of the challenges of living in a bubble over the last 12 months or more. The issue was about convincing them about the efficacy of the Bubble but finally, there is no compulsion on anybody to come,’’ he remarked as the franchises were busy sorting last-minute nitty gritties before flying out to the UAE.
‘‘Firstly, we would like to say a big thank you to UAE government…the challenge was were approvals and the visas in these difficult times. We are also grateful to Abu Dhabi Cricket as they worked really hard with the PCB officials who had worked through the Eid holidays. As franchises, we are very excited that the league will resume shortly but the bigger challenge is to conduct everything smoothly,’’ remarked Shamreen Rana of Lahore Qalandars.
Meanwhile, the PCB sent out a strong signal about a zero-tolerance policy about the safety protocols this time when young international fast bowler Naseem Shah was expelled from the tournament on Monday.
Shah, who plays for Quetta Gladiators, arrived at the team hotel in Lahore on Monday with an outdated negative test for COVID-19 and the PCB ruled said the right-arm fast bowler ‘‘is now out of the competition.’’
The PCB protocols required all the players travelling to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday to present a negative test taken not more than 48 hours prior to arrival at the team hotel, but Shah’s report stated that the test was conducted on May 18.
He was immediately placed in isolation on a separate floor before being released from the hotel following a decision made by a three-member committee on the recommendation of the independent medical advisory panel of the PSL. ‘‘The PCB doesn’t take any pride in releasing a young fast bowler from its marquee event, but if we will ignore this breach, then we will potentially put at risk the entire event,’’ said PCB’s director commercial Babar Hamid in a statement.