IPL: League of uncertainty as hope fades
There is no official word from the cricket board (BCCI) on a final decision, but with India battling to arrest the spread of the virus, sports are not the priority now.Updated: Mar 26, 2020 09:08 IST
But for the world reeling under the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian Premier League (IPL) venues would have been decked with team banners and player cut-outs by now. Instead, the world’s richest cricket tournament whose start was already postponed from this Sunday to April 15, is facing cancellation.
There is no official word from the cricket board (BCCI) on a final decision, but with India battling to arrest the spread of the virus, sports are not the priority now.
The 21-day national lockdown that started on Wednesday means no work on logistics can even be considered until April 14. India having suspended the issuing of visas and stopped flights, domestic and international, BCCI and franchise officials can’t even plan to bring in foreign players, coaches or officials connected with broadcast. Hosting IPL later is also difficult as BCCI is handicapped by the absence of a window because of a tight international schedule.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said: “There is hardly any window (if postponed). Nothing has been discussed. Nothing has changed from what we decided on March 14 in Mumbai when we decided to suspend IPL till April 15. We will continue to monitor the situation,” he told Hindustan Times.
The IPL final was originally scheduled on May 24. No major bilateral series is scheduled in the International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme from April first week till the last week of May (Bangladesh were due to play Ireland in May end). The schedule changes after that.
From the first week of June, West Indies, Sri Lanka, England and South Africa players will have national commitments. By the third week of the month, New Zealand and Australia will have assignments. Players from all the teams have a significant representation in IPL.
Even India are due to play Sri Lanka (3 ODIs, 3 T20s) from June fourth week.
“Even if the lockdown ends on April 15, we need to see when the player visas would be issued. First thing that needs to be done is that the players and coaches should be available. These are things which we will have better clarity once we know how the situation develops,” Chennai Super Kings CEO, KS Viswanathan, said. “If IPL does not happen, it would be a great financial loss for everybody.”
Australian players, who form a sizeable number of foreigners in IPL, anyway would not have come as their government has imposed a travel restriction on its citizens. In all, 62 foreigners are due to play in the eight-team league.
Condition on ground
Even in a hypothetical situation of IPL taking place without foreigners, the important question will be whether the nine match venues would be ready. With no maintenance possible due to the nationwide lockdown, it can be a Herculean task.
Nadeem Memon, Mumbai Cricket Association apex council member and ex-international curator who was in charge of the Wankhede Stadium pitch, explained the situation.
“We’ll take a minimum 15 days to get the ground in match condition. March heat takes a toll on the outfield. We have a sand-based field at the Wankhede Stadium (champions Mumbai Indians’ home venue). It needs constant watering. Currently none of our ground staff are able to come for maintenance.”
The situation is better at Royal Challengers Bangalore’s home ground, M Chinnaswamy Stadium. “Our ground is in good condition. It will take five to six days to get it ready. We have completely shut down work till April 14,” Santosh Menon, Karnataka State Cricket Association secretary, said.
The Ferozeshah Kotla ground, the home turf of Delhi Capitals, is likely to need a lot more effort to ready it for an IPL game.
“All IPL related work was stopped mid-March. The IGMR (Delhi Capitals) guys came here last week and they were told about the developments. Even they looked less hopeful of IPL taking place this year. Generally, it takes about two weeks for the pitch and construction work to be completed before every IPL season. That means till the end of April it is highly unlikely,” a Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) official said.
Even if work resumes by April 15, most venues are likely to be ready only by the month end. Before IPL was postponed, the Delhi, Karnataka and Maharashtra governments were not ready to let IPL matches go ahead with spectators. BCCI were thinking of alternate venues, but even they would take time to get ready.
“If IPL starts in May, then good, otherwise it’s likely to be pushed. Our designs and all were ready as IPL follows many deadlines with IMG and BCCI. IPL cancellation is just an option and not a decision yet. We speak with the BCCI and Star (broadcasters) every week,” a Rajasthan Royals official said.
There is a thought that it could be a shortened IPL like the 2009 edition in South Africa where the eight-team tournament was staged in 37 days. With the T20 World Cup in October, it remains to be seen whether national boards, including BCCI, are willing to take the risk of putting cricketers through such a hectic schedule.
Before all that, the Covid-19 situation needs to improve in India, where close to 600 people have tested positive with the virus and nine have died.
“In this hour of crisis, humanity comes first, and if the games have to wait, they have to wait. We will follow all the directions of the government to help in coming out of this crisis,” Avishek Dalmiya, Cricket Association of Bengal president, said.
“As far as the ground (Eden Gardens, Kolkata Knight Riders’ home ground) is concerned, as we were to host the last ODI (India v South Africa, March 18) it is in good condition.”