Dubai: The dilemma for the Indian Premier League (IPL), when it finally sets the ball rolling in the UAE in September, can be centred around the presence of spectators inside the stadia. Ness Wadia, the high profile co-owner of Kings XI Punjab, admits he would love to see even a 20-30% presence of fans at the venues but adds that one has to approach the issue with utmost caution.
‘‘The decision finally rests with the UAE government and the safety protocols there. I am told they have very sophisticated testing machinery there and even if they can look at a smaller percentage of fans as the NBA are doing it, it will be good. However, all of us want an uninterrupted IPL first and I will be inclined to be more on the side of caution,’’ said Wadia.
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A sports buff to the core, the industrial tycoon was glued to the TV for the last round of action in English Premier League on Sunday evening when Gulf News caught up with him. ‘‘There is a lot to learn from the Premier League or the other major European football leagues - about the way they have circumvented the situation. It’s very sad that we had to eventually take such an event outside the country, but I am sure it can bring some joy and cheer to the people of UAE,’’ he said during an exclusive interview.
Ever since the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) eventually agreed to shift the IPL overseas to the UAE, the logistical problems of the eight franchises have increased manifold - be it organising chartered flights, mobilising their players and support staff from various parts of the world along with, of course, the mounting bills. Asked how they have been coping with it, Wadia chose to play it down: ‘‘I don’t look at it as a crisis. We have always adapted - in 2009, we had to shift the tournament to South Africa at a short notice and in 2014, we had staged 20 matches in the UAE. You can say we are used to it.’’
A few days earlier, Wadia said in an interview that he would like to see daily testing of players, support staff and all concerned so that there are no health concerns during the tournament. Reiterating his point, he said: ‘‘I maintain that if not daily, do the testing every second day. The reason being there is a difference between those who are tested and those who are not...we have to remember that we are playing under very difficult circumstances. We cannot afford to have any doubts about anyone.’’
Will the cricket fans around the world, haunted as they are by the pandemic, be in the right frame of mind to enjoy the IPL like previous years? ‘‘I feel it’s going to lift people’s minds. People are anyway watching things like Netflix or replays of sporting action, but there is a lack of fresh content all over. If you look at the way the England-West Indies Test series has been lapped up by people...similarly, IPL is going to provide fresh content and there will be an unabated focus on the league,’’ he said.
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The last time IPL came to the UAE in 2014, Kings XI Punjab looked in unstoppable form and ended up runners-up to Kolkata Knight Riders in the final - something which remains their best performance till date. Asked if he felt that the UAE could be their lucky charm, Wadia readily agreed: ‘‘Yes, it was a lucky charm. You must also remember that Glenn Maxwell did superlatively during the tournament.’’
The last few years, however, saw Kings XI often flattering to deceive with them finishing sixth in the 2019 edition. The management has opted for an all-Indian combination for the coach and captain this season with the respected figure of Anil Kumble and KL Rahul, respectively, in the two roles.
Was this a conscious decision to bring about a change of luck? ‘‘You can possibly say that. The wealth of experience and cricketing knowledge that Anil brings about should work well with Rahul, who has proved to be a phenomenally versatile player.
‘‘We certainly hope to do well this time,’’ he rounded off.