Dubai: The IPL 2020 offers the UAE a big opportunity to emerge as a potential neutral venue for all forms of international cricket, feels Ravi Shastri, the head coach of Indian team. Welcoming the UAE accepting the challenge of hosting world’s richest T20 cricketing showpiece in these challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic, Shastri told Gulf News in an exclusive chat from India: ‘’The IPL has two big positive aspects about it: firstly, the players get a chance to get back on the ground and then, it offers the UAE a chance to make a big statement if they can pull it off without a hitch.’’
The 57-year-old, who had been one of the long serving TV pundits of the game ever his retirement at an early age, felt that the UAE has a strong potential of not only hosting IPL matches but emerge as a major alternative neutral venue for international cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided to move the tournament to the UAE due to the coronavirus situation spiralling out of control back home, and Shastri felt that the gulf country should derive maximum mileage out of it.
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‘’I had said during the 2014 edition of IPL here that it’s just the right choice if the IPL had to ever move overseas – because of the excellent infra-stucture and overwhelming number of Indian expats here. As things stand out, there are not too many countries in the world now which can safely host international matches in view of the COVID-19 situation.
If all goes well, then UAE should be in the running to host any major ICC event as well as bi-lateral series in future,’’ Shastri said.
His comments gain credence in view of the media reports that the International Cricket Council (ICC) has the UAE and Sri Lanka as their ‘Plan B’ for hosting the T20 World Cup of 2021, should the conditions in India not improve to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
It has been an unusually quiet summer for Shastri, the larger-than-life Indian allrounder who has worn many a hat for Indian cricket before settling down for a second stint in charge of Virat Kohli & Co. The last assignment for them was the New Zealand tour in February, following which the three-match one-day series at home against South Africa had to be called off with the pandemic making it’s way into India.
The pandemic brought all sporting action to a grinding halt globally – and cricket was no exception. At least two of India’s important engagements – T20 World Cup and the Asia Cup got cancelled – but Shastri felt it was inevitable when compared to the kind of suffering that the virus has wrecked on people.
‘’Here we are talking about not playing cricket for five months, the sport had come to a halt for six years during World War II. Nobody saw it coming, it was a shock to the system which destroyed so many lives and livelihood…what can you do about it?,’’ said an animated Shastri.
Refraining to comment on any specific IPL team in his capacity, Shastri felt this year’s league should be a level playing field for all. ‘’All the Indian players have been out of action for last five months, while there is no home and away advantage as well. The good thing is they are starting with the T-20 format and not Test matches, which gets over in just over three hours,’’ said Shastri, who had been spending a bulk of the lockdown period in the solitude of his farmhouse in Alibaug – away from the bustle of Mumbai.
Looking ahead, Shastri’s next assignment will be the four-Test series Down Under towards the end of the year. ‘’The IPL could not have come at a better time as it would give some match time to Virat Kohli and the boys,’’ he added.