The Pakistan Cricket Board says “robust” COVID-19 health and safety protocols are in place for the Pakistan Super League (PSL), a month-long domestic Twenty20 competition that will take place in Karachi and Lahore, with several foreign cricketers participating in a six-team event.
Karachi will host the first leg of the tournament beginning on Thursday before the league moves to Lahore on February 10.
Lahore will also host the playoffs and the final on February 27.
Last year, the PSL was postponed in March after six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a bio-secure bubble, and the league was moved to Abu Dhabi in June.
The coronavirus has already caused concerns before the first game between defending champion Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings kicks off at National Stadium on Thursday.
At least three players, including Peshawar Zalmi’s wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal, and five support staff members tested positive last Saturday when the teams began to assemble in Karachi.
A spike in positive COVID-19 cases in Karachi forced authorities to impose lockdowns in high-risk areas.
The government had initially allowed full crowds in the PSL, but due to the spike in positive cases, now the stadiums will only allow 25-percent capacity – about 8,000 fans.
Pakistan has reported 1,381,152 cases and 29,122 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began in 2020.
Despite the excitement at the PCB, Karachi seemed to be lacking the buzz around the tournament with the rise in COVID cases given as a possible reason.
There are very few billboards to promote the event and fan engagement has been low across the city.
“There is hardly any hype in my area,” Shoaib Rehman, a cricket enthusiast who lives in Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony area, told Al Jazeera.
“Usually, there’s a lot of interest once the tournament starts so maybe that will be the case this time as well.”
The 38-year-old added that there are multiple reasons behind the lack of interest in the seventh edition of the PSL.
“I think recent inflation is playing a big part in the lack of interest. People now think twice before buying expensive tickets. Lack of facilities and all the security checks also makes it unattractive and difficult for people to come and support their teams.
“COVID is another reason. Three years ago, some local teams used to play wearing PSL jerseys but now youngsters are not playing cricket because of COVID fears.”
Unlike the last two seasons when the PSL was played over two legs, the PCB has no plans to either postpone or cancel the event this year in case there are COVID-19 outbreaks among the players.
It has been planned that the league will restart after a week’s break by resetting the bio-bubble from scratch.
🚨 Schedule Announcement 🚨
Complete list of fixtures for #HBLPSL7 is here!
— PakistanSuperLeague (@thePSLt20) December 3, 2021
While there are 20 players each in the six teams, in the event of any outbreaks, matches will be allowed to go ahead if 13 players are available on each side.
Despite the coronavirus threat surrounding the PSL, Ramiz Raja, the PCB chairman, sees the presence of foreign players as a positive aspect for Pakistan, which will be hosting four major countries this year, including Australia for the first time since 1998.
Johnson Charles of West Indies, New Zealand’s Colin Munro, Rilee Rossouw of South Africa and Chris Jordan and Alex Hales of England are some of the foreign cricketers who will be playing in the PSL.
Due to security concerns, the PSL and Pakistan’s international matches come at a price for residents.
Ismail Sheikh, a resident of Karachi’s Gulistan-e-Jauhar area, said authorities should move the stadium outside the city to avoid the traffic jams caused by roadblocks.
“My real issue is not with the event itself but how and where it’s been conducted,” the 35-year-old told Al Jazeera.
“The stadium should be moved out of the city. When it was built, it used to be a little secluded from the city but now it’s in the centre. There’s constant traffic during office hours on any given day and once you close the road, the traffic is diverted to other roads, thus making it extremely difficult for everyone.”
But despite the worries, a few fans have also shown excitement ahead of the tournament.
“I did not have any problem in buying the tickets,” 29-year-old Talal Ajmal Mughal told Al Jazeera. “I have bought tickets so I will go to the stadium with my cousins.”
Additional reporting by Muhammad Azeem Siddiqui in Karachi.
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