It was possibly one of the worst-kept secrets of Indian Premier League (IPL) since July that should the event happen this year, then UAE would be the first choice to host it as the state of COVID-19 pandemic in India almost made it a no-brainer that the event had to be shifted overseas. The Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), which had extended an invitation back in April, were waiting for the official confirmation from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) till the other day before they could make their plans public.
However, the ball has been set rolling now and all the stakeholders are working overtime to let things fall into place. The last time ECB had played hosts in 2014 (they hosted the first 20 matches in a period of three weeks), it won a ringing endorsement from all quarters - from the players to the BCCI, including that of legendary Sunil Gavaskar, who then acted as the interim president of the board at the behest of Supreme Court’s orders at the wake of the match-fixing scandal.
Addressing an interaction with the media after the UAE leg, Gavaskar hinted at a Dubai hotel that the UAE could certainly be considered as a venue for their Champions League (now defunct), though it did not materialise in the end. “We were blown away by the crowds, even for the 2.30pm games. The fact that 19 out of 20 games have been sellouts tells its own story,’’ said the master batsman.
“The wickets in all three venues were also excellent – our statistics show that new ball bowlers have taken 69 per cent of the wickets,” he added.
Cut to 2020, and the challenge is much bigger for the ECB this time. It’s quite a different proposition to host such a major tournament in the times of the ‘new normal’ and that too for a period of nearly two months - with a collective responsibility of the health and safety of the teams for nearly 80-plus days. A false step here and there and the ECB’s credentials as a hosting body would be suddenly put under the scanner.
We were blown away by the crowds (in UAE), even for the 2.30pm games. The fact that 19 out of 20 games have been sellouts tells its own story
This is where the UAE cricket body should try to leverage the massive responsibility of hosting the IPL as a bargaining chip to get some bigger events in future from the Indian board. The clout of the BCCI to orchestrate the fixtures of international cricket is no secret really - and was much in evidence in recent times when the Asia Cup had to be cancelled and eventually the T20 World Cup in Australia also postponed to create a longer window for the IPL.
It’s commendable to play the gracious hosts, but one feels it’s time for the ECB to put forth their case for staging the jinxed Asia Cup next year before the scheduled Pakistan Super League (PSL). There are already media reports that the UAE and Sri Lanka had been kept as stand-byes for the 2021 T20 World Cup if the situation does not improve by then in India - a long shot but still a possibility.
The situation is ripe as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has, from this year, shifted the PSL and their international fixtures back home. If the ECB manages to pull off the 13th edition of the IPL without any major headaches, it will not have anything left to prove to take on major events.
We will wait and watch!