Was it overconfidence, carelessness, or just simply foolishness that led to PSL 6 being postponed just when things were getting super exciting?
Just a few hours before the unspecified postponement of the sixth version of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), cricket fans were celebrating the long-awaited first victory of the Quetta Gladiators. The victory holds its significance in the history of the quarter-completed PSL6 as it was not only the first winning match of the Gladiators, it was also the first match where a bowling squad had defended a total successfully. It is this match that made people believe that there is no curse of losing the toss and losing the match.
All the chit-chat until morning was about what magic did the Gladiators’ captain Sarfaraz do to beat the other side as he went against the trend of the 6th edition. Little did anyone expect the news that was to follow the next daybreak.
On 4th March, around noon, however, the exciting bubble of PSL had burst. Which team stands on the last if not Gladiators, which team tops the table, who has taken the most wickets, who has got the most out of his batting, nothing really mattered anymore. The only chatter was about the rapidly increasing sum of players that were being examined positive for the Covid virus.
Within a few hours, the rug had been removed from under the feet of PSL, and the aftershocks of this one statement, “the 6th edition of Pakistan Super League has been suspended indefinitely”, gradually began to unwrap. The decision was right and timely, given the situation, but what drove PSL to this point were a few weak decisions that were necessary to avoid.
In hindsight, it all started when Darren Sammy and Wahab Riaz, the coach, and captain of Peshawer Zalmi, broke through the squad’s biosecure bubble to meet Javed Afridi, their franchise owner, on 20th February. It was the first time when PSL participants breached the safety protocols to publicly meet, that too at the very beginning of the event.
As per the set of rules issued by the PCB, the two were supposed to finish three days as quarantine and then submit two negative coronavirus tests so that they could be issued an allowance to join back the biosecure bubble. Instead, just after returning two negative tests, Peshawar Franchise’s plea to let the duo get back into the team was accepted by PSL’s Event Technical Committee.
It was also rumored that Zalmi has threatened to boycott the event if the duo isn’t granted permission to step back in. Whatever the reasons were, the truth is that the committee who is responsible to allow the two in took this matter way too lightly and failed to recognize the impacts this decision could pose on the whole event. Regulations are not meant to be altered or broken in any side’s favor, especially when they are imposed to safeguard the quality of an event as big as PSL that too in times when the country is working hard to control the spread of a contagious disease.
On 1st March, when Fawad Ahmed of Islamabad United was tested positive for coronavirus, dark shadows of tension started hovering over the tournament’s completion. As a consequence, the 12th match was postponed for 24 hours. The leg spinner from Australia had already begun to show symptoms by the night of 27th February, after playing against, and thus was sent to quarantine the same night.
It is hard to not object to the actions taken by PCB from here on. When Fawad showed coronavirus signs, as a safety precaution, all participants of the United and Zalmi match should have been asked to quarantine themselves until Covid tests were performed. The administration should have passed clear laws for everyone within the biosecure bubble to constrain their activity, even if this meant suspending their next match.
However, nothing discussed above was done on time. Eventually, by 4th March, almost 7 players had already tested positive for the virus, and a sense of fear lingered among the players. Many foreign participants wanted out. And thus as a result the PSL was postponed.
Before the sixth version of the Pakistan Super League had initiated, the cricket board was successful in organizing its domestic tournament and two international cricket series against South Africa and Zimbabwe. The successful completion of both the events was an important morale booster for the board, ultimately pushing them to the decision of organizing the sixth in-house edition of PSL. In retrospect, the decision turned out to be destructive.
There were more than a few blemishes inside the insecure bubble. For instance, why were international players told to isolate themselves for only 3 days instead of 14 days? Why did PCB not consider reserving the entire hotel lodge for the event? There were times when players were seen mixing with general people staying in the hotel and using the same lift. Even small-scale wedding ceremonies were held in the same hotel. Why was there no process of testing done regularly or at least once a week? Why did the management take no struck action against the Zalmi duo, the first ones to breach the bubble? Moreover, why were the team owners slowed to interact with their players?
The six teams who were part of the entire tournament also had a duty to accept and act according to the standards and regulations drafted by the management. If PCB failed to execute the rules properly, the team franchises should have stepped forward in maintaining laws. PSL6 is not the only cricket tournament to have Covid cases reported, but it is how the problem was catered to that initiated the siren. After this misfortune, every shareholder’s enthusiasm is shocked.
Amid the instability of the country, Pakistani cricket fans were deprived of cricket tournaments on their land for a long, long time. The nation and its forces worked hard to finally make the country safe enough to bring international cricket back home. The postponement of the league did jeopardized not only future international tours but also obstructed the likelihood of Pakistan hosting an ICC event in the future.
The incompletion of the 6th version of the PSL could lead to a huge financial deal as well. The six franchises along with the Pakistan cricket board have already been in a dispute regarding the events monetary model. Just recently, the board has come out of a legal process with the PSL’s 5th edition official broadcaster. A repetition of financial issues could prove to be fatal for PCB, stakeholders, and the franchises involved.