The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 season came to a grinding halt on Tuesday, as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), announced the temporary suspension of the league amid a spike in Covid-19 cases inside their bio-bubbles.
The BCCI released a statement a day after reports stated a breach in multiple bio-bubbles. On Monday, the media reported that Sandeep Warrier and Varun Chakravarthy from the Kolkata Knight Riders tested positive for the virus. Following this, their match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, scheduled for the day, was indefinitely postponed.
In the following hours, the situation grew ominous after Chennai Super Kings (CSK) bowling coach Lakshmipathy Balaji also tested positive for Covid-19. The number of cases increased the next day as Delhi Capitals (DC) Amit Mishra and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) Wriddhiman Saha tested positive.
The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) lodged by the BCCI require those who have contacted an infected person to undergo a strict quarantine period and return three negative RT-PCR tests during the time frame. The teams affected – based in Ahmedabad and Delhi – went into week-long isolation following the positive infections.
The suspension seemed inevitable on Tuesday morning as fear of contracting the virus was rife amongst players and support staff. It was later reported that Covid-19 also infected several ground-staff in Delhi, where the dearth of medical resources has rendered thousands of people helpless and gasping for breath.
The BCCI, in its press release, said that the BCCI did not want to “compromise” the safety of the players, support staff and others involved in the tournament. “These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times”, the statement said.
The BCCI added that it would do everything in its capacity to ensure the safe return of all participant and thanked the “…healthcare workers, state associations, players, support staff, franchises, sponsors, partners and all the service providers who have tried their best to organise IPL 2021 even in these extremely difficult times.”
The IPL is unlikely to restart in the coming months as India faces the grisly second wave of Covid-19. On Monday, a report by ESPNCricinfo highlighted the possibilities of shifting the remaining season to Mumbai. The rationale was the city had seen a steady decline in positive Covid-19 cases earlier this week. However, the report stated that the BCCI would face a significant challenge in setting up new bio-bubbles and finding hotels for teams involved.
With the situation unlikely to improve imminently, September might emerge as a possible window to resume the league, two months before the commencement of the T20 World Cup. India hosts New Zealand before the World Cup, and the gap of 4 months would offer substantial time for the BCCI to strategise their modus operandi. However, travel restrictions on travelling from India may still prove to be insurmountable even for the BCCI.
The Immediate Challenge
Given that the BCCI’s immediate responsibility is to ensure a safe return for all the participants and their families to their respective residence, the board and the franchises were also faced with the task of sending their overseas players to their respective nations. Many countries have either imposed or are contemplating a ban on travel from India.
Australia has imposed a ban on travel from India. Most Australian players and staff involved are headed to the Maldives until the travel ban, which runs till May 15, ceases. Once the players return to Australia, they will need to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
New Zealand is still allowing its citizens back, with several New Zealand players and staff who were part of the IPL set to return home, on Friday, via a chartered flight. The New Zealand contingent was split into two groups: return home and the other set to participate in their upcoming series in England and in the T20 blast in June.
8 of the 11 England nationals, part of the IPL squads, returned home on May 5. The players will undergo a strict 10-day quarantine period in Government approved hotels, as per the UK Government’s policy.
Shakib Al Hassan and Mustafizur Rehman were to arrive in Dhaka on Thursday. It was understood that both were put on a chartered flight by their respective franchises.
Most of the 13 South Africans part of the tournament has already returned home, with the remaining set to return on Friday. Most franchises have already confirmed the return of their respective South African players.
The West Indian nationals, including Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, were scheduled to fly on a chartered flight from Delhi to the Caribbean on May 6. As for the rest of the players, the CEO of Cricket West Indies has said that they are communicating with the BCCI, franchises and players’ agents to ensure their quick and safe return.