‘It was the best of time, it was the worst of time’ – these words of Charles Dickens in ‘A tale of two cities’ ring so true in these times of global COVID-19 pandemic. The Indian Premier League (IPL) has been a regular fixture in international cricket calendar since its inception back in 2008. The success of IPL has made the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) without a shadow of doubt the richest cricketing body in the world and launched many international careers.
The BCCI pulled off a coup when they managed to successfully host – albeit delayed – IPL 2020 in the United Arab Emirates at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic last year in the months of September and October. India would have hoped that hosting the T20 league in 2021 will be a much more smoother task as compared to 2020 but alas COVID-19 has thrown all their permutations and combinations out of the window.
The first game of the 14th edition of IPL is less than a week away – on April 9 (Friday) – with defending champions Mumbai Indians taking on Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore but the global pandemic is hitting back with a vengeance. On Sunday (April 4), according to official figures, India witnessed over 93,000 new COVID-19 cases – more than 10-times the number seen in the month of February.
Axar Patel, Devdutt Paddikal test positive
The IPL and BCCI are not immune to COVID-19 as well. On Saturday (April 3), IPL 2020 runners-up Delhi Capitals announced that star all-rounder Axar Patel had tested COVID-19 positive and is in isolation while media reports have also suggested that Royal Challengers Bangalore opener Devdutt Paddikal is also positive.
Delhi Capitals all-rounder #AxarPatel has tested positive for COVID-19. He had checked into the team hotel in Mumbai on Mar 28, 2021, with a negative report. His report from the second COVID test, came positive. pic.twitter.com/CjRKlfzvWR
— Delhi Capitals (@DelhiCapitals) April 3, 2021
That’s not all, one member Chennai Super Kings content team and 10 members of IPL organizing committee including Wankhede stadium groundsmen have already tested positive as well. It’s hard to say whether BCCI is in panic mode or not but Hyderabad and Indore have been kept as back-up venues if things in Mumbai get out of hand.
International cricketers like CSK paceman Josh Hazlewood from Australia are already giving priority to their health over the riches that IPL participation promises. In fact, CSK failed to convince even international-discard Billy Stanlake to join as replacement.
If international cricketers are giving priority to own and their families’ health, shouldn’t BCCI also be concerned about the health and well-being of their own cricketers. There is no doubt about the competency of BCCI, who were phenomenal in organizing an unbreachable bio-bubble during IPL 2020 followed by home series against England with matches successfully taking place in Ahmedabad and Pune.
However, their decision to allow crowds at Ahmedabad during the five-match T20 series against England led to a COVID-19 spurt at IIM Ahmedabad. Although crowds were banned from the third T20I, there is no guarantee that damage – like that caused to Axar Patel – might not have been done.
Sachin Tendulkar, 3 others fall prey at Road Safety World Series
The ill-managed Road Safety World Series in Raipur is the biggest example in front of BCCI. The series in which retired international cricketers including the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya and Kevin Pietersen took part, resulted in four former Indian cricketers including Tendulkar himself, Irfan and Yusuf Pathan along with Subramanium Badrinath testing positive. Tendulkar, in fact, informed on Friday that he is being admitted into hospital to get treatment for COVID-19.
Thank you for your wishes and prayers. As a matter of abundant precaution under medical advice, I have been hospitalised. I hope to be back home in a few days. Take care and stay safe everyone.
Wishing all Indians & my teammates on the 10th anniversary of our World Cup win.
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) April 2, 2021
The BCCI bio-bubble are undoubtedly in place in all host cities including Chennai and Mumbai to start with but there are a lot of unknown factors when it comes to COVID-19. Apart from the cricketers, there are groundsmen, television crews, support staff, etc. involved in hosting matches. The hotels where the teams are staying need to be completely safe as well and then comes the question of travelling to a new city – which will happen from the third week of the tournament. How will BCCI guarantee no breaches when teams have to board flights out of Chennai or Mumbai.
International players are still trickling in from various parts of the world. The BCCI have made it mandatory to have a seven-day quarantine period before they can start training with franchises but false negative reports, like that in case of Axar Patel, are a major problem.
Cancellation of IPL 2021 will be an extreme step and one which would really hit the BCCI hard. There are a lot of stakeholders involved – from host broadcasters Star Sports to team and IPL official sponsors, etc – but doesn’t human life and safety take priority over financial gains for one year, especially when the world is grappling with global pandemic?
It will be extremely unfair of a franchise, like in case of CSK in IPL 2020, if a spate of positive cases derail their IPL-14 campaign. The question is if BCCI president Sourav Ganguly will be brave enough to take a huge step and pull the plug on IPL 2021 at the last moment, to keep cricketers safe from COVID-19?
Views expressed in this copy are author’s own