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Paul Stirling is set to become Islamabad United's second high-profile surprise return in two days, this time for Friday's eliminator against Lahore Qalandars. If Islamabad win tonight, they will have brought back the opening pair that lit up the opening stages of the season, for the PSL final on Sunday. Multan Sultans will be awaiting the winner of tonight's game.
A tweak in the PCB's Covid-19 policy for the tournament that allowed Alex Hales to return for Thursday's win over Peshawar Zalmi will see Stirling immediately eligible to compete. The franchise confirmed in a tweet on Friday that he had returned a negative PCR test. Before the amendment to the protocols, agreed upon by all franchises, anyone arriving from outside Pakistan would have had to quarantine for three days before being allowed to play.
Stirling played the first five games of the PSL for United before leaving for international duty with Ireland. He took part in a T20 quadrangular series in Oman and then in the T20 World Cup qualifiers in which, though Ireland lost in the final to the UAE, they qualified for the World Cup in Australia. Stirling's performances in Oman were not spectacular - he averaged just over 23 with a strike rate of 111 across five games. In the five games he did play for Islamabad, however, he was averaging 37.40 with a strike rate of 181.55. With Hales in tow, the pair were the most destructive opening pair during that first leg, especially in the Powerplay.
Hales had also departed the season early, though in his case he cited the mental fatigue of bio-bubbles as his reason for doing so. But he returned for Thursday's eliminator against Peshawar, with his 49-ball 62 - his third fifty of the season - helping set up United's successful chase. The innings earned him the player of the match award.
As with Hales, Stirling is expected to follow the same distancing protocols and will 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.