Pakistan pacer Hasan Ali is understood to have avoided a surgery to resolve a back problem, but will continue his rehabilitation for another five weeks, a decision the PCB made after he responded positively to an online session. Ali, who lost his central contract last month, will have his medical expenses covered by the PCB until he achieves full recovery, and also get additional financial assistance from the board's welfare fund, a safety net reserved only for retired players in dire need.
Ali's back injury, diagnosed as an intervertebral disc protrusion, could have led to a surgery in a worst-case scenario. The PCB, after consulting local doctors, had planned to fly Ali to Australia. However, with lockdowns and travel restrictions in place across the globe, the board resorted to seeking medical advice online, and had Ali undergo a two-hour rehabilitation session under the watch of a two-person panel: Lahore-based neurosurgeon Asif Bashir and Australian spinal therapist Peter O'Sullivan. The committee ruled out the need for an operation, opting to carry on with the treatment involving conservative rehabilitation for the next five weeks, with further decisions to be made only after fresh scans are conducted.
"Hasan Ali picking up injuries around the same area twice in less than a year was not a normal thing," Dr Sohail Saleem, the PCB director of medical and sports sciences, said in a statement. "Consequently, we consulted some of the best and most experienced specialists and it is heartening to hear their feedback following the opening online rehabilitation session in which Hasan showed no signs of symptomatic regression.
Hasan Ali is one of our assets and heroes of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 victory. It is the PCB's responsibility to look after him during these difficult times so that he focuses and works solely on his fitnessWasim Khan
"However, these are early days of his rehabilitation programme and we will continue to monitor his progress for the next five weeks before collectively making future decisions. But one thing is for certain, he is under the treatment of the very best in the business and hopefully he will return fitter and stronger to competitive cricket without any surgery."
The 25-year-old paceman suffered the injury last season during the opening round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in Lahore, following which he underwent a seven-week rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in the same city. He was declared fit for the final round of the tournament, only to suffer a fresh injury - a rib fracture - in November that ruled him out for another six weeks. He consequently missed Pakistan's international commitments during the season, but returned after another spell of rehab ahead of the PSL.
He, however, was below his best in the tournament, picking up eight wickets in nine games at an economy rate of 8.59 for Peshawar Zalmi. Ali complained of persistent pain in his back, and scans confirmed the problem, which had flared up and revealed symptoms consistent with a lumbar herniated disc.
The injury, as well as a run of average form, resulted in Ali's omission from the 2020-21 central-contract roster, which will come into effect from July 1. His contract for the previous season, though, will be active until June 31, technically qualifying him for medical cover. Also, ESPNcricinfo understands, because a fit Ali is a shoo-in in most Pakistan squads, the PCB decided to bear the expenses of his treatment even beyond his current contract term.
"Hasan Ali is one of our assets and heroes of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 victory. It is the PCB's responsibility to look after him during these difficult times so that he focuses and works solely on his fitness," Wasim Khan, the PCB chief executive, said. "Hasan is a young and energetic cricketer who has a lot of cricket left in him. Like most of his followers, the PCB will like to see him regain complete fitness, so that he can resume normal services for the Pakistan men's national cricket team. Till that time, the PCB will provide him financial assistance from the PCB Welfare Fund, which exists exactly for this purpose."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent