With only three matches left in the UAE, the Pakistan Super League and its franchises are beginning the process of figuring out which foreign players will travel to Lahore, where the final is scheduled for March 5.
On Sunday evening in Dubai, Karachi Kings became the last team to qualify for the play-offs. They begin on Tuesday in Sharjah, with Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators, the two teams that finished top, playing each other. Looming over the games, though, is the question of who from the foreign contingents of the four teams is ready to travel to Lahore.
The PSL management is expected to further brief the overseas players before the play-offs begin and the primary aim remains to try and convince as many of them as possible to make the trip. However, preparations are also underway to create a nominated pool of foreign players willing to travel in case the finalists' current roster pulls out.
On Monday, the Punjab government finally gave a public go-ahead to the staging of the final in Lahore. In theory, that ends the uncertainty of recent days caused by a wave of terrorist attacks across Pakistan that have claimed over 100 lives, including a suicide attack in Lahore two weeks ago when 13 people were killed.
There was another blast in the city last Thursday, when at least seven people perished, heightening nerves and casting fresh doubt on the sense of bringing the final to Lahore. Though reports initially said it was a bomb, the government has since claimed it to be the result of a gas leak from a cooking cylinder.
Senior league officials have worried over the fluidity of the situation, and had been waiting for a definitive go-ahead from government authorities. With that now in hand, the situation of the foreign players needs resolution. Najam Sethi, the PSL chief who was in Pakistan on Monday, said: "I will be going back to Dubai now and once the finalists are confirmed I will again talk to the franchise owners and foreign players. We have also prepared a back up list of foreign players in case the overseas signings of the finalist teams refuse to come to Lahore. "
Of the four remaining teams, Peshawar are the most confident their foreign contingent will go to Lahore should they reach the final. No player, however, has come outright and said so yet. And though no official word has come from Islamabad United, it is believed neither Brad Haddin nor Shane Watson will stay on.
The two teams who might face greatest difficulties are Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings. Kevin Pietersen, of the former, will almost certainly not travel and Tymal Mills is also unlikely. Others such as Luke Wright and Rilee Roussow, who were considering making the trip, are said to have reassessed after the recent spate of attacks.
Officially Karachi say their players will make a decision once the team's fate is clear. Until then, it is said, their players do not want to "jinx" their chances of getting to the final by talking about it.
It is almost inconceivable that Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, two players who were in the team bus in Lahore when it was attacked eight years ago, will travel. They have told officials that they cannot take the decision alone and have to consult with their families. And the call they make could potentially have an impact on what Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard do as well.
One-off payments, ranging from USD 10,000 - 50,000, are being offered to foreign players should they agree to play in Lahore. That, as one foreign player considering taking part in the final pointed out, brings its own complications. "What is the difference in me playing in Lahore under a security threat and a Pakistani player doing so?" he said. "In any attack both are at risk. And physios and masseuses? A life is a life, mine or a Pakistani player's."
In case the teams end up severely shorthanded, a pool of nominated foreign players could be roped in. The list, initially of 54 names, has now grown to above 60 and is said to be composed of those who were not picked in the draft last October as well as additional names from outside the draft, who are willing to travel to Pakistan.
Each franchise will nominate five to six players from the long list and hand it to the PSL, who hope that ultimately, accounting for common names that appear in multiple lists, they have a shortlist of 12 to 15 waiting on standby to participate in the final.