The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has announced dates for the four remaining games of the 2020 season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), which were which were suspended in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All four matches will take place at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
The Qualifier between the top two teams from the league stage, the Multan Sultans and the Karachi Kings, will take place on November 14, as will the first Eliminator between the third- and fourth-placed Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi. The second Eliminator, between the loser of the Qualifier and the winner of the first Eliminator, will take place on November 15, and the final on November 17.
Professional cricket is set to resume in Pakistan this month after a 24-week hiatus forced by the Covid-19 pandemic. The PCB has opened up training facilities at its National High-Performance Centre (NHPC) while maintaining a strictly controlled environment, and has also issued an advisory to restart the sport at the grassroots and recreational level with adequate safety measures in place.
Apart from the final leg of the PSL, the PCB is also looking to conduct the 2020-21 domestic season, and host two international teams. Zimbabwe is scheduled to visit Pakistan in November for three ODIs and three T20Is, and South Africa in January 2021 for two Tests and three T20Is.
The domestic season is set to start from the last week of September with the National T20 Cup played over two legs - in Multan and then in Rawalpindi - followed by the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, which is set to be played entirely in Karachi, a city with six venues capable of hosting 12 teams. With an eye on preparatory camps for its top players, the PCB has said the resumption will be gradual and over phases across the country. Cricket might return in full this month on, but both the domestic and International games through the season will likely be played behind closed doors, with no fans in attendance.
The situation around Covid-19 in Pakistan is nearly under control, and a sense of normalcy is beginning to return. Of the 296,590 cases that the country has recorded in total, as on Wednesday, 281,559 have recovered while there have been 6318 deaths. Stores, restaurants and public transportation have opened up, and educational institutes should be operational from September 15 according to the Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Only men and women cricketers who have represented Pakistan in the last 12 months will be allowed to train at the NHPC or undergo rehabilitation programmes at the facility. Under the PCB's regulations, they will only be allowed to take part in socially-distanced training sessions. Players are prohibited from bringing their helpers or assistants, while net bowlers will have to be nominated and approved by the the centre. The use of saliva to shine the ball will not be allowed in training sessions as well as in domestic cricket.
"It was important that we produced these protocols so that our elite players can prepare for the upcoming season in the best possible and safest environment," said Nadeem Khan, the NHPC's director. "I want to thank our medical team for preparing comprehensive protocols, which, we are confident, will ensure safety and security for the players. This is an unprecedented situation which continues to evolve. We are committed to monitoring the situation, while broadening our scope and opening doors for more players on the circuit as we move ahead."
The PCB is the sole custodian of organised cricket in Pakistan but doesn't run recreational and grassroots cricket. It mainly operates at the domestic level and leaves lower-level cricket on its own, following the local government. Cricket outside PCB facilities has continued to take place in public playing fields without restriction.
"We don't control recreational cricket but as the game's governing body in Pakistan, we can request all organisers to ensure that their participants are strictly adhering to the government-issued Covid-19 protocols," Khan said. "This is in their best interest as well as their close ones and cricket. Sport is a healthy activity and it needs to stay that way."
The government opened up sports activities in the country over four phases with social distancing as the major point. Sports complexes and stadiums, according to the advisory, must adhere to occupancy limits of 25 or fewer people indoors and 100 or fewer outdoors, inclusive of players, coaches and staff, and the facility as a whole may not exceed 50% of its total occupancy. The PCB, however, is most likely to conduct games behind closed doors.