Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
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The PSL has scrapped its four-match playoff, turning the knockout stage into a two-day affair with semi-finals and a final, as the league copes with the impact of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak. As many as 14 overseas players and an overseas coach are also leaving because of the developments and fears over travel restrictions.
The rejig shaves four days off the schedule even though it reduces the total match count by just one.
Earlier, the playoffs were to run from March 17 to March 22, the first match in Karachi and the remaining three in Lahore. Now, the semi-final double-header will be on March 17 and the final on March 18, all at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium.
"The decision means the HBL Pakistan Super League 2020 will be reduced by four days and there will now be 33 matches as opposed to 34," a PCB statement said. "According to the revised schedule, the 17 March semi-finals will be double-headers and will be held at the Gaddafi Stadium with the table-toppers going head to head with the fourth-placed side at 2pm. This match will be followed by the second semi-final, which will begin at 7pm, between the second and third-placed sides.
"The final will be played on 18 March and will start at 7pm. All these changes have been made with the consultation of the team owners."
A large contingent of English players were among the most significant to pull out from from the PSL because of the pandemic. Peshawar Zalmi's Tom Banton, Liam Livingstone, Lewis Gregory and Carlos Brathwaite, as well as Multan Sultans' James Vince and Karachi Kings' Alex Hales, were among the first to confirm their departures, and the list has since expanded to include Peshawar's Liam Dawson and coach James Foster, Multan's Rilee Rossouw, and Jason Roy, Tymal Mills of Quetta Gladiators, and Islamabad United's Colin Munro, Dawid Malan, Luke Ronchi and Dale Steyn.
ESPNcricinfo understands that with the situation still unfolding, more overseas players will leave the tournament prematurely. The PCB also confirmed that the remaining matches would be played behind closed doors, including the knockouts in Lahore, and all local and overseas players and support staff members have been given the option to pull out.
"Today, the PCB and the team owners, as part of their duty of care, have decided to give all the players the option to decide if they wish to return home," the PCB said in a statement. "Ensuring that the players feel comfortable remains paramount to the PCB. As of now, it is important to emphasise and clarify that the main concern of many of the 10 players and a coach, who have chosen to return home, revolves around avoiding a potential situation where they might become stranded either due to flight cancellations or border closures in their own countries."
The PCB also said that it had carried out medical tests, and that no player has tested positive for the virus.
With this many players pulling out, the PCB gave the go-ahead to the franchises to seek replacements. ESPNcricinfo understands that the PCB was also in contact with the competent authority in the government and will continue to monitor the situation closely and "won't hesitate to make what we believe are the right decisions for everyone involved".
As things stand, Lahore Qalandars are the only team unchanged with their players staying on for the rest of the tournament. Islamabad called off their training session in Karachi on Friday.
There have been 16 reported cases of coronavirus in Pakistan so far, and most of those are in Karachi, with no one in Lahore testing positive yet. Four of the remaining PSL games are slated to be played in Karachi, while four, including the final, will be held in Lahore.
High-level meetings to find ways to deal with the emergency are on, and prime minister Imran Khan will meet the national security committee on Friday and is expected to make some important announcements by the end of the day.
In a tweet, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said that Khan chairing a meeting with provincial chief ministers, which will be attended by civil and military leaders. "Our primary responsibility is the protection and well-being of Pakistanis," she said, adding that measures to make the country safe from the effects of the virus would be implemented too. "The purpose of the meeting was to unite the entire country on the important issue of coronavirus and that the huddle is part of national efforts to ensure harmony and contain coronavirus."