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Pakistan Super League 2020: To playoff or not to playoff?

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As the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic is taking more time to flatten than it was initially expected, discussions are on about whether the pending knockouts of PSL 2020 be held or scrapped. If the outcome is latter, Multan Sultans will be declared the champions.

On March 15, just two weeks ago, what now feels a year already, Pakistan Super League 2020 was bustling. Matches behind closed doors had taken the edge away from the league but it was still treating cricket fans across the globe, being the last bastion hosting top-notch cricket.

March 15 saw a double header - Lahore Qalandars took on Multan Sultans in the 29th Match at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore and won by 9 wickets. In the evening game, Karachi Kings squared off against Quetta Gladiators at the National Stadium in Karachi and came up short by 5 wickets.

The next day, news of Alex Hales showing symptoms of the Covid-19 broke and the knockouts had to be suspended with immediate effect.

Lahore' s Gaddafi Stadium was supposed to host the two semi-finals, Multan Sultans vs Peshawar Zalmi and Karachi Kings vs Lahore Qalandars, but they had to be cancelled. The Pakistan Cricket Board was hopeful of hosting the knockouts at a later date.

But, now with it becoming more and more clear that the pandemic in not likely to subside as it was first hoped, there have been calls to declare Multan Sultans - the current table toppers - the champions. Some franchises though are still hoping against hope.

As per PSL's playing conditions, the team placed at the top of the league standings can be declared the winner if the tournament doesn't find a window to hold its knockout matches. Multan Sultans, standing with 14 points from 10 games, will be the beneficiaries in this case.

Sultans bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed believes that his team should be given the title. "The PSL 5 has to have a proper closure and that can be done by taking into [account] the top team on the points table at the end of the league stage and declaring them winners. If the PCB doesn't close the PSL 5 and tries to organise the remaining four or five matches including the final later this year or before the PSL 6 it will dent the hype and spoil the momentum of the next edition."

Alamgir Tareen, the owner of the Sultans franchise, has also seconded Mushtaq's statements. "We are yet to have a conversation with the PSL management to assess if and when they can find a window to schedule the playoffs," he said. "However, we do not see the rescheduling of the playoffs to be practical. If the PSL does identify a window for the playoffs in the later part of the year, who knows which players will be able to come and what the composition of the teams will be. Alternatively, if we set apart a week at the beginning of the next PSL and choose to play with newly drafted teams, it will be a part of PSL 6 more than a continuation of PSL 5."

It is however understandable that the other three three teams who have qualified for the knockouts - Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi - and are in with a chance of winning the title, believe otherwise.

Sameen Rana, one of the Qalandars' owners, wants the remainder of the tournament to be played before the start of the next season if possible. "The only sense we understand is to regroup and play the tournament whenever it is possible and sign off with a winner," Rana said . "We believe in competing, otherwise there is no point of playing cricket. The ideas of deciding a winner on the basis of a team on top in the group stage will suck out all the fun.

"There is a sense of competition and this is what makes cricket more beautiful. If this is a thought process then why we playing cricket, let's decide a winner on toss in every game we play. All we have to do is find a window and we can easily afford to bring 16 players for two days on a weekend and finish the tournament on a high note."

Zalmi's Javed Afridi and Kings' Salman also want the tournament to be played in its entirety at a later date.

"We definitely need to have a winner, otherwise this will go in dispute," Javed Afridi said. "Our [overseas] players are ready to return anytime. They are keen to finish on a high and if there is a possibility of rescheduling the PSL, we are in full support. The beauty of the PSL is the competition and if it's not happening, it's not the right thing. Apart from the cricketing prospect, there are commercial elements involved as well, so those remaining three games are very important for the sake of the PSL."

"I believe there is a window and the best time would be to have the remaining games this year, just before or after an international series in Pakistan," Iqbal reckoned. "That will save production cost as all the required equipment will already be in place."

After the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, as the seasons of the Sheffield Shield in Australia and Plunkett Shield in New Zealand could not be played in full, the teams that occupied the top of the table - New South Wales and Wellington were declared the winners respectively.

©Cricket World 2020