Alex Hales. (Photo Source: Twitter)

The coronavirus threat continued to take a toll on cricket as nine overseas cricketers decided to leave the ongoing Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020 on Friday to return home. The outbreak of the disease has claimed almost 5,000 lives worldwide and left nearly 1.5 lakh people affected.

In Pakistan, there have been reports of 21 cases of coronavirus. The World Health Organisation has announced COVID to be a pandemic. Among the foreign players who have decided to leave for home are English trio Jason Roy, Alex Hales and James Vince.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), however, said that the tournament will continue as per the schedule despite the foreign players pulling out. The cricket board though made some urgent changes to the schedule by replacing the playoffs with semi-finals and now the final will be played on March 18 instead of March 22. By changing to semi-finals, the tournament will also see one match less.

“What is paramount is we are giving options to all the players and support personnel to withdraw from the league if they want to as ensuring they feel comfortable remains the top priority of the PCB,” PCB CEO Wasim Khan said in a statement as quoted by Geo.tv. Four more league games were left in the tournament as on Friday and they will be concluded on March 15. Both the semi-finals will be played on March 17.

Seven out of nine withdrawing players are from England

Apart from the three mentioned above, Tymal Mills, Liam Livingstone, Lewis Gregory and Liam Dawson are the other England players to pull out from the PSL. Besides, West Indian Carlos Brathwaite and South African Rilee Roussouw will also return home. Besides, South African coach James Foster has also decided to withdraw.

Of these players, Dawson, Brathwaite, Roussouw, Gregory and Vince were set to feature in the key clash between Peshawar Zalmi and Multan Sultans in Karachi on Friday. In its statement, the PCB said the franchises were given the right to replace the foreign players with local ones.

It also said that it was keeping a close watch on the situation with concerned agencies and so far, no player has tested positive for the virus so far in the T20 league.

“The remaining matches in Karachi will be held as per earlier decision without crowds and only accredited personnel would be allowed inside the stadium,” the board informed. Khan said the franchise owners were taken into confidence before allowing the foreign players and support staff to return home.

“As of now, it is important to emphasise and clarify that the main concern of many of the 10 players and coach (who are returning home) revolves around avoiding a potential situation where they might become stranded due to flight cancellations or border closures in their own countries. We will continue to assess and review the situation. And will not hesitate to make what we believe are the right decisions for everyone involved,” Khan said.