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Alex Hales will make a surprise return to the PSL to help an injury-battered Islamabad United progress to the final of the seventh season.
United are due to take on Peshawar Zalmi in the first eliminator at Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday, a game Hales is now expected to be available for. His return will be a massive boost to the two-time champions, who have been hit especially hard by injuries and absences this season.
Hales had left the PSL just over a week ago, citing bubble fatigue as the main reason for his withdrawal. But a couple of amendments to the existing health and safety protocols, approved today, have allowed Hales to return and play immediately without the need to isolate beforehand once he arrives. Hales will have to clear a Covid-19 test on arrival.
The amendment means that at this late stage teams can bring in players and make them play the day of their arrival. They will, however, be kept apart from the team as much as possible, including not having access to the team's dressing room, staying in a separate area of the hotel and traveling in a separate car to the stadium.
The other amendment has been to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases from seven to five days - with a negative rapid antigen test required to exit isolation. A number of members of the Zalmi and Multan Sultans squad have tested positive in the last couple of days, including Tim David. This tweak allows some room for positive cases - depending on when they tested positive - to return should their teams make the final on Sunday.
According to the PCB, "the amendments were presented and unanimously approved by the six franchises this afternoon and were run past the Medical Advisory Panel before being introduced."
United, though, will be happiest, given how crucial Hales was to their fortunes this season. Despite not playing three games, Hales is United's top-scorer this season, averaging over 40 at a strike rate of 156.44. Along with Paul Stirling - who had to leave for national duty with Ireland - his starts meant United were among the highest-scoring sides in the Powerplay earlier in the season.
But Hales' abrupt departure was part of a string of changes to what would've been their first-choice XI; Stirling and Rahmanullah Gurbaz both had to leave for international duty; Shadab Khan, the captain, has been injured; Colin Munro is injured; Zeeshan Zameer, their promising young fast bowler, is also out for the season. That has impacted United's performances, the franchise stuttering into the playoffs with three defeats in their last four games (the last two especially comprehensive). Even with a close-to-full strength side early on though United had won three and lost three of their first six games.
There is cautious optimism within United that Shadab might be fit to play in the first eliminator against Zalmi. Given the season he - and Hales - have had, they will be very welcome returns.