To state with emphasis that the string of positive cases in the last few days that led to the suspension of the Indian Premier League was a disaster waiting to happen is a classic case of being wise after the event. That being said, there was a compelling reason from the beginning to stage the tournament at the same venue where last season went off without a hitch – in the United Arab Emirates.
Even given there was little indication of the carnage in store in India when the scheduling for IPL 2021 was undertaken, prudence dictated that the decision-makers looked beyond our shores. Epidemiologists had predicted a second wave around about this time, a pronouncement that fell on deaf ears even amongst those tasked with greater responsibility than running the IPL. It can’t be said with complete certainty that there would have been no positive cases had the event been staged in the UAE, but a template was already in place that had been successfully followed just six months back.
In due course, a clearer picture will emerge on the sanctity of the bio-bubbles under which the competition operated. Already, there are enough indications that these bubbles weren’t anywhere near as airtight as in the Emirates, where even the slightest indiscretion would have attracted harsh sanctions.
It was decided only last week that individuals could no longer requisition food from outside the hotels where they resided. How that was allowed in the first place beggars belief; it took alarmingly escalating caseloads on a daily basis to arrest a practice that was a huge risk, no matter the steps in place between the arrival of such orders at the hotel and their delivery to the rooms concerned.
Almost as disturbing was the scheduling of practice sessions. In the UAE, training schedules were chalked out in such a manner that teams hardly ran into each other even if they practiced at the same ground back-to-back. Great care had been taken to ensure there were no overlaps of nets. Imagine the consternation when, in the national capital this time, two teams were allocated identical practice timings and asked to share four nets adjacent to each other. It took the teams’ resourcefulness to split their routines so that when one polished its fitness drills, the other honed its cricketing skills, and vice-versa.
It won’t be out of place, at some stage in the near future, to launch an investigation into how at least four of the eight franchise bubbles were breached. Positive cases emanated from the Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings, Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Delhi Capitals camps – in Delhi and Ahmedabad – which is a cause for massive concern given that India are earmarked to host the Twenty20 World Cup in October-November.
The IPL was meant to be a dress rehearsal for the mega event, due to be staged for the first time since 2016. This was India’s chance to portray its efficiency and organizational expertise under trying, testing circumstances. It was with the World Cup in mind that the mandarins of the BCCI binned the UAE option. Now, it’s more than likely that even in the event of the anticipated downturn in the march of the coronavirus over the next few weeks, several nations will be apprehensive about the tournament being staged in India.
Unsurprisingly, the UAE has been identified as the back-up venue for the World Cup, though with more than five months to go, the International Cricket Council will be in no hurry to make the final call any time soon. Whether India can convince the rest of the field that it can stage the World Cup without incident will depend on how swiftly they are able to bring the rampaging second wave under control, though even that might not be enough to wipe out tragic, horrifying images of people in extreme distress in the absence of hospital beds and oxygen.
Opinion will remain polarised on whether the IPL should have been held at this time in the first place. There are compelling arguments for and against, but that’s water under the bridge now. The move to play matches at six venues, and the risks that come with attendant air travel, will come under increasing scrutiny in the not-too-distant future. The BCCI didn’t exactly cover itself in glory by appearing to be a mute spectator even as extreme hardships mounted countrywide, though it was at least swift in pulling the plug on the tournament as soon as two new cases were reported on Tuesday to go with five others on Monday.
There is still the not-insignificant matter of arranging safe passage home for all overseas personnel – players, coaching staff, commentators. If that process is completed seamlessly, it will come as some relief for the beleaguered and the apprehensive.