PCB chief Wasim Khan revealed that the board initially were mulling the idea of restarting PSL 2021 after a five-day break, but conceded that they had to scrap the plan as ‘nervous’ players did not want to continue playing. Khan added that it was imperative for everyone not to play the blame game.
The sixth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) came to an abrupt halt as on Thursday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) confirmed that they were indefinitely postponing the competition owing to a Covid outbreak within the tournament. At the start of the week, news emerged that Australia’s Fawad Ahmed had tested positive for Covid but one case soon turned into almost a dozen as, within days, multiple players and support staff tested positive for the virus. As a result, the PCB had no option but to indefinitely postpone the tournament to a later date.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, PCB chief Wasim Khan revealed that the decision was taken keeping in mind the mental state of players. Khan revealed that, initially, the idea was to restart the competition after a five-day gap but said that the players made it clear that they were in no mental state to carry on, owing to rising cases triggering anxiety.
"What I originally proposed to the franchises was that we look at 5 days as a stop period - take three tests in that period to see how we move forward. The franchises are very very clear that the players are very nervous, they are very anxious and apprehensive. Another three positive cases overnight have had a trickle effect,” Khan was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz.
“So, whilst our hope was that we could perhaps suspend matches for five days then continue, they made it very clear that the players were not in a mental state to continue. So, I think, the three cases overnight - they felt the temperature in terms of how the players were feeling, what was the feeling around the camp and it was clear that the majority players did not want to continue. And the franchises felt very uncomfortable, as did we, in putting the players' under any additional risk when there was no need to do it."
A thorough investigation might unravel the real reasons behind the calamity, but the initial overarching feeling is that the PCB and the organizers were not strict about the bubble. Both Wahab Riaz and Darren Sammy broke the bubble even before the tournament started by meeting their franchise owner - someone outside the bubble - and multiple owners, ambassadors and fans were also, through the course of the tournament, seen interacting with players freely, without masks or social distancing.
Thus, understandably, the blame game has already begun. But Khan insisted that this was not the right time to point fingers, and stressed that, right now, it was important for all stakeholders to stay united for the greater good of the sport.
"There are a lot of emotions at the moment. Franchises have invested a lot of money, everybody has invested time in making PSL work. So there will be a lot of emotion, particularly in the first 24 hours with anything. We fully expect that. Any environment can only work only if everybody is on the same page. This isn't about the blame game of who is to blame, this is about a collective effort that we all had a responsibility to police and self police the environment. Unfortunately, we weren't able to do it effectively enough, hence we find ourselves in this situation today.
"Now is not the time for Pakistan cricket to be fighting, to be arguing and blaming, the bottom line is there has to be a sense of collective responsibility, self-policing is important within any bubble, any environment, we will also look at ourselves and see what we could have done better. It is a tough day for all of us... our thoughts remain with the players, because the players who are isolating, it is very important that we provide them with the best support, so that they can complete their isolation period and we can send them off, wherever they are travelling back to."
PSL 2021 was, really, an outlier, as the PCB had previously already successfully hosted tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe, National T20 Cup, Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, and the second part of PSL 2020 without any hassle. Khan insisted that those tournaments went ahead without facing any roadblocks as ‘policing’ was top-class, something that wasn’t the case with PSL 2021.
"Why did our domestic cricket work? Because it was policed. We had 30-odd matches across two venues. We delivered South Africa - although it was bilateral. But we delivered tournaments with multiple teams involved domestically. Yes, there are responses from the franchises but this isn't about blaming anybody. This is about Pakistan cricket - the loss is for everyone to bear, for us, for the franchise - from the result today, how we're now viewed globally. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to get Pakistan back up and running, to get it to where it has. Let's not forget all the work that has been put into the last one year to get Pakistan cricket to where it is in world cricket."
The PCB are yet to announce an official restart date for the competition, which oversaw the completion of 14 matches.