MUMBAI: The Indian cricket board (BCCI) and its multiple Indian Premier League (IPL) stakeholders are facing an enormous challenge right now. The league’s 14th edition hasn’t even begun yet and the fraternity is sweating because of the rising number of Covid cases in the country.
From cricketers to franchise officials, groundsmen, associated staff and consultants, the numbers are adding up by the day across venues. The primary line of conversation right now is: the league is going to begin in two days but given the overall situation, will it continue as scheduled or get shelved?
There’s no way of knowing yet. Defending champions Mumbai Indians will face Royal Challengers Bangalore in the inaugural game at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Friday and the stakes, as usual, are extremely high.
Chennai reported 3645 new cases and 15 deaths on Tuesday, with the number of active cases touching 25,000. Those tracking developments say, “expect these numbers to rise once polling ends”. The Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) is not letting its guard down, with Chepauk playing host to three teams in the first leg: Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad, and KKR.
Some other venues, Delhi for instance, has already begun taking precautions, even though they begin hosting their share of seven IPL matches only from April 28. The Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) has decided to shut the stadium from April 10, keep the ground staff inside a bubble, stop employees from using public transport. It has already finished its first round of vaccination for staff.
Mumbai, meanwhile, is once again the epicentre of Covid-19’s fury. As much as the BCCI deserves a pat on the back for pulling off the 2020 edition of the IPL by shifting it to the UAE, it has faltered on several fronts this season. Here are some of the areas where the board could have done better…
– The board weighed the option of shifting the tournament to UAE once again before deciding to conduct it here. Many of the BCCI’s own stakeholders were convinced that shifting to UAE was the right option.
– If there are no spectators, what was the need for six venues
– The health guidelines were framed relatively late. There were flaws in the guidelines and isolation windows were breached. ? There were delays in the processing of visas for overseas players.
– The BCCI did not hire a safety and technology firm, like they hired UK-based Restrata last year in the UAE, to create a central bio-bubble.
– There’s no GPS-tracking yet, something that was done before the start of the tournament in the UAE.
– The booking of hotels – either by the franchises or by the BCCI or in coordination – has been random. One franchise, for instance, is staying 10 kilometres away from the stadium in Mumbai and that too in a hotel that is part of a commercial complex.
– Has there been a way to confirm if hotel staff was quarantined before the franchises checked in?
The question on everybody’s mind is a clear one: Is this edition a ticking time bomb now? The BCCI hasn’t communicated a word on this yet even as franchises have officially declared cases of Covid in their respective camps.
On Tuesday, when reports of former India wicketkeeper Kiran More, a Mumbai Indians’ scout and wicketkeeping consultant, testing positive became public, the league was busy debating this one development more than anything else.
“If this can happen to the Mumbai Indians’ camp, then nothing is safe anywhere else. They are always doubly prepared in circumstances like these. Their bio-bubble began on March 1 in Mumbai and ever since, they have been travelling inside it. Like they did in the UAE, they once again booked the entire wing of a five-star resort in Chennai this season too. “If they’re worried right now trying to figure out how Kiran got infected, others are all the more worried,” say representatives of two other franchises.
“One day at a time. That’s the only way ahead. Test daily. Do not breach the bio-bubble at any cost. Enable better methods to conduct contact-tracing. Be self-aware. These basics must be followed diligently. There’s no other option,” say those tracking developments.
Royal Challengers Bangalore coach and former Australian batsman Simon Katich, though, allayed fears, saying the bubble in the RCB camp was a tight one. “We are very comfortable as a group with all the protocols and measures that are in place because we had the tournament go off very smoothly in UAE last year. Obviously, the cases are a lot more in India this time around but at the moment we are at the team hotel, we travel securely to the ground we are practising at.
“We don’t come in contact with anyone else. It is a very tight bubble and we are very confident with the people who ensure nobody breaches that bubble. From our perspective, we are very well briefed about the situation. The players and support staff are really aware that the right thing to do is not to go out of the bubble,” said Katich.
(Inputs by Shilarze Saharoy in Chennai, Manuja Verappa in Bengaluru and Arani Basu in Delhi)