IPL Trophy. File(IPL)

Future uncertain as postponed IPL seeks a window

IPL 2021: There are practical problems in staging and completing the league, halted due to Covid, before or after the T20 World Cup.
By Rasesh Mandani
UPDATED ON MAY 07, 2021 06:49 AM IST

It was supposed to be an IPL that would fetch BCCI bigger sponsorships than ever before, beating the virulence of the virus and the pessimism surrounding it. In 2020, when IPL went to the UAE, the cricket board had lost title sponsors Vivo, filled the slot with value halved, barely retained three official partners and had to make do with an approximate sponsorship of R400 crore. (IPL 2021 Full Coverage)

This year, Vivo was back, BCCI had five official partners and was expected to make a record R700 crore plus from sponsorships. Add the massive R3,270 crore annual broadcast deal and this was to be a bumper IPL despite the pandemic.

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But with the virus creeping inside the IPL bio-bubble and the season postponed midway, there is a fear now that almost half of the R4,000 crore BCCI would have made may never come into its kitty. The franchises that share 40 % of these proceeds will take a proportionate hit, and player salaries will be halved.

Unless the Indian board finds an alternative window this year. “We will take a call later if we can find a window to complete IPL,” is all its chairman Brijesh Patel said, a day after the league was put off after more positives.

Finding another three weeks to complete the league in a year India hosts the T20 World Cup would be much tougher. With boards still figuring out ways to stage cricket by creating bio-bubbles, IPL had emerged the most lucrative property for players looking to make up losses from the absence of cricket. Once the T20 World Cup was postponed, every cricket board made way.

“We are monitoring the situation and are in touch with the BCCI,” an ICC spokesperson said. While ICC is expected to follow the protocols and give it some more time, a recce by its bio-safety team to India planned recently was put off. India recorded 3.82 lakh new Covid cases and 3,780 deaths in the 24 hours across Tuesday and Wednesday. These issues suggest that the UAE could host the T20 World Cup in October-November with BCCI retaining the hosting rights.

One big lesson from the IPL fiasco is not to undermine the severity of the virus outside the bubble and strictly limit travel. “There are always people outside or in a separate bubble, at stadium complexes, hotels, airports. The breach can happen anywhere. Staging cricket in pandemic hit cities is always fraught with risk,” a franchise official said.

Two possible windows to play the rest of IPL being spoken are before (in September) or after (in late November-December) the World Cup. With IPL revenues making 60 % of BCCI coffers, it will get precedence over any Indian bilateral series. Even after a venue is identified, at home if the virus recedes, or at the UAE, the availability of international players remains central to the success of the league. 17 Australians, 12 players from England, 10 New Zealanders and South Africans and nine from West Indies were the major overseas players in the league.

The problem with the post-World Cup window is that it clashes with the Ashes, which would rule out all big-ticket multi-format players from Australia and England.

A small window before the World Cup is more possible, if BCCI can convince other national boards that IPL would serve as a T20 practice opportunity for the World Cup. But IPL is far from ideal practice for overseas players, many of whom may not figure in the playing eleven. England is scheduled to play white-ball cricket in Bangladesh and New Zealand and South Africa were to play in India. Also, ICC draws up its practice schedule, two matches per team before the World Cup. The state of the pitches could become another problem, if a pre-World Cup window is sought and IPL and World Cup go to the UAE. Playing 31 matches at the main grounds in the UAE in September would wear down the pitches before the World Cup.

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