The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) proved not so immune from the COVID-19 health crisis around on Monday (May 3) as the news of multiple individuals testing positive in two teams’ bio-bubbles came to the fore.
While three non-playing members of the Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) IPL 2021 contingent proved exposed to the contagious virus, two cricketers of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) also emerged to have contracted the virus.
The news of KKR’s spinner Varun Chakravarthy and their pacer Sandeep Warrier giving positive tests for COVID-19, followed by three members from the CSK camp – chief executive officer Kasi Viswanathan, bowling coach L Balaji and a bus cleaner – also going down that path, only added to the fans’ fears and anxiety for the rest of the ongoing IPL.
Despite BCCI and IPL governing council time and again giving reassurances to various teams and players involved of their safety, the otherwise stringent bio-secure bubbles haven’t proven that effective in keeping the pandemic at bay.
Even though those KKR and CSK individuals testing positive have been put in isolation at a separate designated facility from the rest of their teams, that they contracted the virus poses a direct question mark on the sanctity of the bubbles employed in Delhi and Ahmedabad.
And the breaches of these bubbles could have far-reaching consequences beyond just the on-field action, which we’ll look to dwell upon today.
Potential side-effects of the IPL bio-bubble breach
Bangalore, Kolkata IPL 2021 games to be rescheduled?
For as many as 29 games, the IPL 2021 went through largely unscathed from the pandemic. But on Monday afternoon, the BCCI was forced to reschedule Match 30 between KKR and RCB in Ahmedabad because of two positives tests in the former’s camp. In Delhi, three of CSK’s non-playing members got exposed to the virus as well.
For now, the board only has rescheduled one of the IPL 2021 matches. The KKR-RCB encounter can be sneaked into the fixture list later. But if there are more positives cases observed in the coming days, the whole of the tournament itinerary could be thrown in the air as the BCCI will then have to reschedule further matches.
With the games slotted in Delhi and Ahmedabad nearing their end, teams are soon about to move to Kolkata and Bangalore for their remaining part of their league stage campaigns. With COVID-19 cases in the cities on the rise, travelling to the city could be dangerous. If more positive tests emerge, the BCCI will have to reschedule those games and either extend the IPL window to complete them or find another spot in the calendar, a difficult task even for the mighty Indian board in a year that features Tests in England and also the T20 World Cup.
Australian players, support staff and commentators left stranded, uncertain
An immediate effect of the IPL bio-bubble breach could be no relaxation from overseas governments’ on international travel restrictions. Recently, the Australian government confirmed it is suspending all flights from India till May 15, which was a follow-up act of sorts after the UK government red-listed our country.
Three Australian cricketers – Andrew Tye, Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa – chose to depart prematurely from IPL 2021 before the new travelling regulation came in place, fearing how else will they be able to reach home after the tournament.
While the majority of the contingent from Down Under didn’t panic and opted to stay back, there was a sense of unavoidable anxiety among them regarding their safe departure. Mumbai Indians (MI) batsman Chris Lynn requested the government back home to arrange a chartered flight for their IPL-bound countrymen after the completion of the event here.
That request, however, was rejected brutally by the Australian PM, who made a public statement that there won’t be any special arrangements made for the Aussies involved in IPL 2021 since they are not on national duty.
That statement led to the premature departure from the IPL of former batsman and commentator, Michael Slater, who has left for the Maldives to keep himself safe and away from the health crisis out there. Slater even tweeted in anger about the Australian government’s stance.
If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It's a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect
— Michael Slater (@mj_slats) May 3, 2021
Slater chose to leave India and the IPL bio-bubble despite league authorities sending written assurances to all involved of their safety, besides also promising them that the BCCI will take full responsibility for their home return.
BCCI’s reassurance had raised the hopes of RCB’s Glenn Maxwell, who said he won’t mind being flown indirectly back to Australia via the UK after the IPL.
IPL bubble breach could affect the rescheduled PSL
Another immediate side-effect of any further bio-bubble breaches in the IPL 2021 and players testing COVID-19 positive, could be felt across the border on the already rescheduled 2021 edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL).
The PSL 2021 shares multiple of its marquee, overseas signings with the IPL. But if any of those players are made to go through an extended isolation phase near the end of May because of possible positive tests, they will have to obviously wait before being allowed to enter the bubble employed for the PSL.
KKR’s Andre Russell, Shakib Al Hasan are among those who were signed by respective PSL franchises in the replacement draft that took place online recently.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) could ill-afford any major hiccups ahead of the PSL 2021, which was postponed from its traditional window in March due to multiple COVID-19 positive tests and breach of the bio-security bubble.
As many as 20 PSL 2021 games are scheduled in the new window, beginning on June 1 at the National Stadium in Karachi.
T20 World Cup to be shifted to UAE?
Already postponed from its original slot in the calendar last year, the next edition of the ICC T20 World Cup is now facing fresh scares from the pandemic. With the latest wave of the global outbreak wreaking havoc in India, the possibility of the marquee world event being shifted to UAE has once again popped up in conversation.
An important BCCI functionary related to the event said recently that the board is indeed preparing for the “worst-case scenario” of shifting the T20 World Cup, scheduled for October-November this year, to the Middle East.
“I am doing everything we can to make sure that it happens (in India),” Dhiraj Malhotra, the tournament director for the T20 World Cup, said on the BBC’s Stumped podcast. “We will be doing normal scenario, Covid-scenario, worst-case scenario. All that we are in talks with the ICC at the moment.”
If the ICC gains in conviction of India being an unsafe destination for an event of T20 World Cup’s magnitude in these times through any further IPL bio-bubble breach, the BCCI will be forced to put the contingency plan in action, shifting it to UAE.
“It would be (the) UAE. And we are hoping it will again be done by BCCI – we will take the tournament there. So it will be still run by BCCI,” said Malhotra who took charge this February as BCCI’s general manager of cricket operations and game development.