Now that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has suspended the Indian Premier League, uncertainty looms over the country hosting the T20 World Cup later this year. Though the tournament is five months away, the participating nations have already informally discussed shifting it to the UAE. One main reason for doubts to emerge about the BCCI’s ability to host the World Cup safely is that Covid has pricked its IPL bio-bubbles: the league had to be suspended after two Kolkata Knight Riders players, Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier, tested positive for the virus Monday evening.
Seeking to defend its safety protocols, the BCCI claimed Chakravarthy picked up the infection during a visit to an Ahmedabad hospital for shoulder scans. Then it became known that a few other players and officials were down with the virus as well, including L Balaji and Kasi Viswanathan, top executive and bowling coach, respectively, of Chennai Super Kings, wicketkeeper Wriddiman Saha of Sunrisers Hyderabad and legspinner Amit Mishra of Delhi Capitals.
It was inevitable given that the BCCI was holding matches in cities which are overwhelmed by the second Covid wave and whose healthcare systems are collapsing. Imagine a scenario where a player was badly injured during an IPL game in Delhi or Ahmedabad where hospital beds are not available even for VVIPs. Where would you take that player for emergency care?
“You know how rich and powerful the BCCI is” is the common reply from senior officials involved with IPL 2021, noting that they are led by Jay Shah, son of powerful home minister Amit Shah.
Jay Shah and his father can open many doors, of course, but when people are dying for want of oxygen and ICU beds it is far from certain an injured player would get timely treatment. And if they do by jumping the queue how would that reflect on the cricket board?
Indeed, notwithstanding the hype, even the BCCI’s boasts about how secure its IPL bio-bubbles were didn’t convince. Sure, they held a successful IPL season in a UAE bubble last year, but Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi of 2020 were much safer than Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, or Ahmedabad of 2021. A senior Delhi and District Cricket Association official recently booked a local club ground for visiting IPL teams to practise, despite, it’s reliably learnt, fellow administrators cautioning this breached bio-bubble protocols. Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals, Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad were driven to the Roshanara Club for practice sessions. Though the teams took along their own food and beverages as well as waiters to serve the players, the club’s staff and relatives of its officials were allowed to watch the practice sessions. A few individuals tried clicking selfies with star Indian players while they were going to use washrooms.
Instead of accepting the risk to the players, the BCCI’s interim CEO Hemang Amin was busy sending them vacuous messages. “When you walk out onto the field,” he preached after several players had withdrawn from the IPL, “you are bringing hope to millions of people who have tuned in. If even for a minute you can bring a smile to someone’s face, then you have done well. While you are professionals and will play to win, this time you are also playing for something much more important – humanity.”
But the exodus of foreign players continued, with Andrew Tye of Australia even publicly questioning “how Indian companies and franchises are spending so much money, and the government, on the IPL when there’s people not being able to get accepted into hospital?”
The BCCI, mind, is the world’s richest cricket board by far.
What happens to the IPL now? The BCCI can postpone it until the next available date in the cricket calendar or move the remaining matches to relatively safer venues. Senior BCCI executives are learnt to have already checked with luxury hotels in Mumbai if they could ensure bio-bubbles for IPL entourages. There’s no dearth of stadia in the city and its surrounding areas, with the Wankhede, the DY Patil and the Brabourne having already hosted the first leg of the season. The Wankhede saw 10 matches before the IPL show moved to Delhi and Ahmedabad, while the DY Patil and Brabourne were used for practice sessions.
The BCCI hasn’t discussed this plan with the team owners yet, it’s learnt, but if it’s agreed, Bengaluru and Kolkata won’t see any IPL games this season as was originally planned. It would also necessitate a rejig of the tournament’s schedule, making doubleheaders more frequent. All that, however, is in the ‘air’ for now.
Chander Shekhar Luthra is an independent journalist.