Kolkata: The Indian Premier League (IPL) has a way of dealing with its myriad problems - be it handling the logistics of taking it overseas for elections or COVID-19 pandemic, recession or even allegations of match-fixing scandals in the past.
As it’s now bracing for the 14th edition to get underway in Chennai from Friday, the shadows of a second wave of the pandemic looks very much a reality - and all the stakeholders can pray for is that things will fall into place once the action begins.
Till late evening on Wednesday, there have been incidents of four active players testing positive for the virus, while there were nearly 20 more cases from different layers of the IPL operations - from Mumbai Indians’ wicketkeeping consultant Kiran More to as many as 10 groundsmen of Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai testing positive. The situation is particularly alarming in the financial hub of India and though the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had kept Hyderabad and Indore on stand-bye to host the 10 matches scheduled in Mumbai, it was deemed as too late to shift the matches.
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While the fans are bracing to lap up #indiakaapnamantra (India’s own mantra) over a period of nearly two months, a question doing the rounds is - couldn’t the BCCI have handled the situation better? It’s very clear that when the mandrarins of the Indian cricket board started planning for the 2021 edition right on the back of a successful and uneventful one in the UAE, they did not bargain for the second wave to turn so virulent so as to put a question mark over the event itself.
As the 2020 edition was on it’s last leg in the UAE, a number of insiders confided to Gulf News that it’s quite possible that the 14th edition would also come back to the UAE. There was also an outside possibility of the bi-lateral series between India and England being also shifted on the venues of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
However, with the number of cases coming down dramatically in India by December-January, the Indian cricket establishment wanted to try out the India-England series as a test case before eventually deciding to host the IPL in India itself. The other line of thinking was that with India due to host the T20 World Cup in October-November this year, they did not want to send out a wrong message to the cricketing community by moving the IPL overseas again.
T20 World Cup
The challenge before the Indian board, under the circumstances, to host a largely incident-free IPL is manifold as the International Cricket Council (ICC) is keeping an eye on the COVID-19 situation in India in order to keep a Plan B ready to host the World T20 on schedule. The 2020 edition of the event, scheduled Down Under, had been already postponed once due to the pandemic - which eventually created the window for IPL to be held in the UAE.
Admitting about a Plan B, Geoff Allardice, the interim CEO of ICC said they were on a wait-and-watch mode before taking a final call on shifting the 16-team showpiece from India - with the UAE and Sri Lanka being already named as stand-bys. ‘‘At this stage, we have not activated those plans because we are preparing to go ahead with the event in India as scheduled,’’ said Allardice
The BCCI, on their part, have done their bit with a fixture where the teams, support staff and broadcasting crew will be moving in a ‘cluster caravan.’ Giving an insight into how the fixtures were drawn up, Sanjog Gupta, Head of Sports - Star and Disney India told Gulf News: ‘‘In this arrangement, each team has to take just four flights through a bio-secure corridor to complete the league.’’
When asked about the concerns, Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president tried to calm the nerves earlier this week: “Once you are in a bubble, nothing happens.” .
Speaking at a zoom press conference, Ganguly said: ‘‘Cases were also found when the IPL was held in the United Arab Emirates last year, but once the tournament started everything was fine.”
Reigning champions Mumbai Indians will take on Royal Challengers Bangalore in a high profile tournament opener in Chennai on Friday.
Catch the match
Mumbai Indians vs Royal Challengers Bangalore
M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai
Match starts at 6pm, UAE time