Kolkata: It finally took a rising number of COVID-19 positive cases among players - not to speak of senior officials and support staff - for the Indian cricket board to finally suspend the IPL 2021 for the season. Better late than never - that’s the only cliche which can sum up the hurried decision though one cannot help but get a feeling that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had invited such a situation upon themselves.
This is the first occasion in it’s journey of 14 years that a IPL had to be suspended midway - and it comes as a huge blow to the Indian board’s reputation of delivering this prestige product against all odds. The official statement from them does not promise looking for any alternative window during the year during these uncertain times - while a clear picture will emerge in the coming months as to where it leaves India as the hosts of the T20 World Cup in October-November.
Is there anything that the Indian board could have done differently to save the tournament? It’s worth mentioning here that in the wake of them collaborating with the UAE to host the previous edition in September-November last year without any major incident, the IPL governing council had kept the UAE very much as a Plan B and were also in touch with them even till January-February this year.
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However, the smooth hosting of a full series against England in February-March in Bio Bubbles created internally - coupled with the pandemic situation in India which was very much under control by the end of 2020 - emboldened the powers that-be that to host the IPL in India and send out a signal to the International Cricket Council (ICC) that they would be ready to host the World T20 later this year.
There was, however, a significant difference between the tour of England and a IPL. While the former was a bi-lateral series restricted to three venues, the IPL looked at dealing with around 200 players alone - not to speak of hundreds of support staff, TV crew, officials and across six cities. The decision to spread the league across six cities, as against the original thought of restricting it to Mumbai (the only city which had three international stadia and could have hosted all the matches with prior notice) was done as a rehearsal for preparedness of the World T20 - and has turned out to be counter-productive for now.
‘‘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 said in their statement.
However, the postponement is only half the job done as the board now has to marshall all it’s influence and resources to ensure a secure a safe passage for the overseas cricketers, TV pundits and officials - at a time when flights from India are barred to countries like UK, Australia and transit point UAE.
With the benefit of hindsight, a lot of ifs and buts will now come up. As of now, we can hope for the event to come back stronger next year!