It is a decision that should have been taken earlier given the India, the host country, is in the midst of a devastating second wave of the COVID-19 virus. Cricket in the time of crisis and tragedy has felt wrong for several weeks. This pandemic has hit India so badly that there was no way that the IPL would be completed without any such cases. It was, really, a matter of when, plus the hope of many that nothing untoward should happen.
On Tuesday (May 4), the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) suspended the IPL amid a widening outbreak of the virus after a fourth franchise reported a positive test. The IPL has been called off for an indefinite period, but all indications are that the tournament will not resume any time soon, and certainly not in India.
First of all, thoughts go out to all those who have tested positive in the IPL ecosystem, as well as to their families. As well as to the many people involved in the tournament whose livelihoods depend on the IPL. The IPL had no business continuing as the death toll surged across India, but that said, there are citizens of India that are reliant on the tournament. Daily-wagers, production crew members from camera persons to floor managers to satellite feed coordinators and more, freelancers writers and analysts, to name a few.
Again, the right decision has been taken. There is no debating that. But do think about those who will lose out financially from this decision. And I am not in the slightest referring to the BCCI or its commercial partners, even factoring the cyclical economic spin-off that postponing the IPL will cause.
Secondly, think about the overseas cricketers stuck in India. With virtually no country allowing people in from India, how will the IPL’s foreign players return home? Over the past week, Australian cricketers Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson returned home via Qatar and several of their compatriots in the IPL have expressed concern over their safe passage home.
As it currently stands, any Australian attempting to enter the country risks jail time and fines amid the travel ban, though the the Prime Minister Scott Morrison termed such sanctions as “extremely remote”. As of May 3, Cricket Australia said it had no immediate plans to provide a charter flight to return players currently in the IPL. But now with the tournament postponed, the board will have to make plans to get its players home.
British and Irish nationals can travel to the United Kingdom from India, but must isolate in a government-approved hotel for 10 days and return two negative test during that time. South Africa is allowing flights from India and though the New Zealand government has lifted its travel ban on India, is has been reported that those eligible to return home are finding it impossible to get flights. Bangladesh has suspended air travel from India but allowed ground travel with two weeks of quarantine.
So, how did it come to this so suddenly?
The IPL 2021 bio bubble was pricked with news emerging on Sunday that two players from Kolkata Knight Riders – Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier – tested positive to COVID-19 in Ahmedabad. Within hours, word broke that three staff members of the Chennai Super Kings – the franchise’s chief executive Kasi Viswanathan, bowling coach L Balaji and a bus driver – had tested positive on Sunday but returned negative reports on Monday. Based in Delhi, CSK immediately went in isolation on account of having been the last team to play KKR.
As calls for the IPL to be called off grew louder by the minute, the tournament organisers finally put out a statement. The BCCI and the IPL governing council, during an emergency meeting, had “unanimously decided to postpone IPL 2021 season, with immediate effect”.
The statement read: “The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL. This decision was taken keeping the safety, health and wellbeing of all the stakeholders in mind.
These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times.
The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021.
The BCCI would like to thank all the healthcare workers, state associations, players, support staff, franchises, sponsors, partners and all the service providers who have tried their best to organise IPL 2021 even in these extremely difficult times.”
From that release, perhaps the most significant line was the second last one: “The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021.”
From that sentence, we can infer that the IPL is not returning for a while. This may also impact India’s chance of hosting the T20 World Cup, scheduled to held in October and November. Last week, the BCCI confirmed that the T20 World Cup will be held in the United Arab Emirates if the COVID-19 crisis means that the tournament cannot proceed in India.
Cricket, for now, will take a back seat, rightfully. As soothing a balm as it has been for many suffering from COVID in these times – and this writer knows many such people, and himself looked forward to watching IPL matches when he was down with the virus last month – there was a certain crassness to the way the tournament was paraded by commentators and the broadcasters. This could have been toned down, but it did not happen. You feared for players and umpires and officials and ground staff over the past month, and hoped that everything would be alright.
But the reality was that it would take one positive case inside the IPL to bring the house down. And it has happened.