A damning double whammy: Covid sweeps Pakistan cricket into maelstrom

The PCB is facing a damning double Covid whammy. Within days of the indefinite postponement of the 2021 Pakistan Super League (PSL) in the wake of the increasing number of positive coronavirus cases among staff and players, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been forced to shut down their office headquarters in Lahore with immediate effect as a senior office worker has tested positive for Covid-19.

The cricket body is not in the mood to take any risks and has decided to adopt a safety-first approach by asking all its employees to work from home. While the board is yet to launch contact tracing of the infected official, it is understood that the high-performance training centre in Lahore has been suspended.

Furthermore, an unnamed overseas player has claimed that bubble security in the PSL was severely compromised.

The PCB announced the decision to halt the tournament on Thursday last week after an emergency meeting between the franchises. Prior to that, a total of seven individuals tested positive. Six of those seven individuals were players while the other was a member of the support staff of one of the teams.

It is all the more disappointing – and concerning – after the likes of CPL, IPL, BBL as well as Lanka Premier League were conducted smoothly. With the exception of the ODI series between South Africa and England, the bilateral series have been held without incident so far.

The overseas player reported that keeping cricketers apart from ordinary guests in their host hotels did not seem a priority.

He said that while the security personnel were working hard to keep the PSL participants away and it was a tough task for them to recognise everyone.

“The security personnel tried their best to spot who were players and officials taking part in the PSL and they would try to make sure you were kept away from everyone else staying at the hotel, but that must have been extremely difficult for them because obviously, they couldn’t recognise everyone who was involved in the PSL and who were members of the public,” he told PakPassion.net.

Proximity to the public was one thing, but the source also alleged that members of respective squads were not following the protocols either. He said that the members were sitting and dining together in the bio-bubble.

“I only went downstairs for breakfast once and saw that a lot of the players and officials from the teams were mixing and I didn’t feel comfortable with that at all,” he said.

“After seeing what was going on, I thought to myself, ‘never again’ and I didn’t go downstairs in future for breakfast, instead I just ordered it into my room.

“Having been around bubbles for the past year, I can definitely say that the bubble in Karachi was not secure and not well maintained and there were too many risks which there shouldn’t have been.”

He added: “There are risks in every bubble, but there were far too many risks in the one at the Pakistan Super League. I’ve lived with Covid guidelines in the past year or so and I have taken precautions and the bubble guidelines very seriously. I have kept away from risks, abided by the rules, and taken them very seriously. Perhaps some people involved in the tournament weren’t taking the rules and regulations as seriously as others.”

PCB chairman Eshan Mani has his hands full following the closing of their HQ, the Lahore high performance centre and the cessation of the PSL.

He has set up an independent panel to probe what went wrong. His organisation has been at receiving the end of criticism from all round the cricket world – including the franchise owners. And yesterday, the head of the PCB’s medical and sports sciences department, Dr Sohail Saleem, submitted his resignation. He will spend his months’ notice helping to investigate whey the PSL was not able to effectively to enforce the standard operating procedures required for a bio-secure bubble.

The future of the league and an update regarding the tension between PCB and the franchise owners may come very soon, as Ehsan Mani is due to hold a meeting with the six franchise owners today. All eyes will be on the outcome.

Comment: just a local issue?

We probably all fear that “normality” may still be a long way off in the sense of a world where we are all free to travel from country to country – simply because different countries will recover from the pandemic at different speeds. New Zealand and Australia deserve huge credit as nations, but they’ve succeeded so far by effectively keeping other nations out. As the UK accelerates its vaccinations, we are still chasing a “South African variant” here.

Cricket has done magnificently to stage both tours and international tournaments, bringing the word “bubble” into everyday language (perhaps too much for Ravi Shastri). The global game has served up some great cricket in all formats in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 because of those bubbles. However, like animals, the overall herd is only as strong as its weakest link. Protecting the weak is therefore essential. The ICC must provide all guidance and support possible.