Return of the passionate fans, which had been a soul of the IPL in it's journey, had given the UAE led of 2021 season a different dimension, according to BCCI secretary Jay Shah. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Kolkata: The scenes of fans at the stands at Dubai International Cricket Stadium for Sunday’s IPL 2021 opener between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings - after a gap of one and-a-half seasons - must have been an extremely satisfying one for the top bosses of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Jay Shah, the young secretary of the richest cricket body in the world, and his president Sourav Ganguly will have heaved a sigh of relief at being able to save the 2021 season - which looked in doldrums after being suspended in early May due to rising cases of Covid-19 among the teams. The last four to five months, for them, had been spent laregly at firefighting as they also had to shift the T20 World Cup to the UAE.

The duo have had their plates full as only a week back, the fifth Test match at Manchester had to be cancelled at India’s behest - and there were fingers pointed at the BCCI that a hurried decision was taken in order to save the IPL from any possible delays in a choc-a-bloc season.

Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, the usually media-shy Shah decided to field the questions head-on. Following are the excerpts:

Cricket - Jay Shah (left) & Sourav Ganguly
Jay Shah (left) and Sourav Ganguly, the secretary and president of BCCI, at the official launch of groupings for T20 World Cup in Oman last month. Image Credit: ICC

Gulf News: It must be a satisfying moment for you to welcome the crowds back in the IPL after nearly one-and-half seasons?

Jay Shah: Undoubtedly! The whole world has been under a lot of stress in the last two years and the situation across the globe was not appropriate to allow fans inside the stadium. The safety of all concerned in the ecosystem is on top of our priority list, no matter what! We did what best could be done under the circumstances (hosting the 13th edition in UAE behind closed doors) last year.

But with the situation improving every day, it was only apt to welcome the fans back into the stadium. When you have fans back, it has an entirely different emotional connect and we have now managed to re-establish that.

As hosts of the T20 World Cup after this, do you feel that allowing crowds there is also a matter of time?

Yes. We have already allowed spectators in the stadium as per the regulations set by the UAE government. The UAE government will have a final say on letting cricket fans inside the stadium.


If hosting the IPL 2020 in the UAE presented one set of challenges, saving the 2021 season must have been an even tall order for you?

Actually, 2020 was an even bigger challenge because the world was slowly trying to understand and navigate its way through the pandemic after a complete shutdown for almost a year. It was the time when live sporting events suffered the most. Terms like ‘Bio-Secure Bubble’ and processes like ‘quarantine period’ were new to all.

Players too were adapting to new playing rules and regulations. But despite this, we organised the event for close to two months - from September 19 to November 10, 2020 and it turned out to be a huge success.

There is no doubt that the IPL is the most popular T20 league in the world and having the tournament in India has its own advantages. So, banking on our learnings from the previous year, we were keen to hold the 2021 edition in India. It started off well, but once IPL had its first positive case, we decided to suspend the season immediately. At BCCI, we have always put the health and safety of all its stakeholders on top of our priority list and accordingly we took the decision of suspending the league.

However, returning to UAE to complete the season starting from scratch - in terms of planning, logistics and at the same time ensuring continuity (prior to its postponement, 29 matches of IPL 2021 were completed with 31 more left to be played including the play-offs and the final), was challenging. But let me tell you that we were always confident of completing the 14th season.

Actually, 2020 was an even bigger challenge because the world was slowly trying to understand and navigate its way through the pandemic after a complete shutdown for almost a year. It was the time when live sporting events suffered the most. Terms like ‘Bio-Secure Bubble’ and processes like ‘quarantine period’ were new to all.

- Jay Shah, BCCI secretary

When the decision to host both IPL & World T20 was formalized in July, it was said in some quarters that the BCCI agreed to move the World Cup to save the IPL and ensure the foreign players’ participation. Do you really buy it?

The BCCI made every effort to stage the IPL and the World T20 in India and provide its passionate fans with a reason to cheer after a long period of gloom. However, the prevailing pandemic situation in the country meant that the health and safety of everyone concerned were fraught with risk should tournaments of the stature of IPL and World T20 be held across the country. It is important that both these events happen and continuity is maintained. The BCCI is closely working with the ICC, UAE and Oman to make both these events memorable for all concerned.

The cancellation of the fifth Test in Manchester – the British media are making IPL the sole reason behind it. What’s your reaction to it?

The BCCI has always maintained that the safety and well-being of the players is of paramount importance and there will be no compromise on that aspect. The outbreak of COVID-19 in the Indian team contingent forced the decision to cancel the Test. The BCCI and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) held several rounds of discussion to find a way to play the Test Match but jointly decided to call off the 5th Test in the series.

Both the BCCI and ECB have agreed to reschedule the Test next season and we will continue to work together.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli
The appointment of MS Dhoni (left) as a mentor to the Indian team for T20 World Cup in the UAE, which will also see Virat Kohli's final assignment as the T20 captain, has been hailed as one of the casting coups by the Shah-Ganguly regime. Image Credit: AP

A frank question – we are aware that you had issued a written directive to the Indian team and support staff to by and large stay away from public gatherings. There is a perception that the Covid episode was avoidable if certain members were more discreet and adhered to the guidelines. What do you feel about it?

Though a lot has been said on the subject, it is yet to be ascertained what actually led to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Indian team contingent.

Finally, a lot of speculation has started about the major changes that Indian cricket may see after World T20 – be it split captaincy or change of head coach. The appointment of MS Dhoni, of course, has fuelled such speculations. How would you like to react to them?

We have a clear roadmap for Team India, considering the workloads and ensuring that we have smooth transition. Virat Kohli has decided to step down as T20I captain after the upcoming World T20 but he will continue to contribute as a player and as a senior member of the side in shaping the future course of Indian cricket.

As far as MS Dhoni’s appointment is concerned, ‘MS’ is one of the greats of the modern era, his captaincy has been both inspiring and commendable, so appointing him as the mentor in the World T20 will benefit Team India in every way.