The International Cricket Council's (ICC) decision to postpone the T20 World Cup sent the IPL Governing Council into an overdrive on Monday (20 July). Brijesh Patel, IPL Governing Council chairman, while mocking ICC for delaying the decision and thereby depriving member countries of making their own bilateral plans, said the 2020 IPL would be played in UAE subject to Government of India granting permission.
“The dates of the IPL, though, are yet to be finalised owing to numerous factors that need to be kept in mind,” he said.
Indeed the cricketing world looked up to ICC for leadership during these devastating days of COVID-19, but all one got was mundane management that turned out to be wholly inadequate during the ongoing crisis.
In the end, the only thing ICC seemed to be doing was procrastinating their decision on the T20 World Cup, their biggest property for the year. Did this procrastination help anybody in the ecosystem? Certainly not. Not the member nations or even ICC itself.
ICC’s reluctance to postpone the T20 World Cup (18 October to 15 November), even though hosts Australia had several times hinted that it was not in their interest to go ahead with it, was quite puzzling. It almost threw a spanner in the IPL works.
└📁 T20 World Cup
└📁 Hope it doesn't come to this...
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) July 20, 2020
But the IPL Governing Council, headed by former Test cricketer Brijesh Patel and BCCI, with president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah driving it, were made of sterner stuff. They were not sitting on their haunches. They had worked out scenarios and responses.
Patel, one of the very few cricketers with outstanding administrative leadership qualities, had already cut his teeth in the field by substantially lifting the profile of Karnataka State Cricket Association as one of the most progressive associations in the country.
An admirable part of his approach was to shun media interaction and instead let his work do the talking. Thus even as ICC were dilly-dallying with a postponement that seemed universally apparent, the IPL GC and BCCI worked in tandem and went about putting together contingency plans.
The shifting of IPL from its normal April-May schedule was inevitable following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. It was then that various permutations and combinations were worked out to try and save Indian cricket’s most precious property.
The monsoon months of June-September were virtually ruled out, whether playing in India or elsewhere. The weather would have been far too hot in UAE and too cold in South Africa. Thus late September, followed by the October-November period, were seen as ideal months.
The options for hosting it were narrowed down to India and UAE. The challenges of playing in India at this time were many. The rising cases of Corona positive cases - albeit still way below one percent of the population - was only one of them. The police, security, hotel, and health staff were already stretched thin by the pandemic. The conduct of the IPL, even if it was held behind closed doors, would have piled on immense pressure on these folks, especially police and security who would have had a herculean task keeping fans in check.
Thus, UAE became an inevitable option, and franchises were kept in the loop of IPL’s back-up plans, though Patel cautioned that the whole move still needed GoI’s approval.
The BCCI-IPL GC, in fact, had to wait for some major decisions. Chief among them was ICC postponing the World T20 and thereby leaving that window open for the conduct of IPL. This was done on Monday.
Another huge decision was to be made by the government of India – that of allowing large amounts of foreign exchange to be taken out of the country to aid hosting of the event. That permission is still awaited, according to Patel.
However, franchises had been prompted to start negotiating with UAE hotels, charter flights, surface transport, apparel, and other logistics, including bio-security measures for their teams. Thus, they could be up and ready to go as soon as the Indian government gives its nod.
Meanwhile, the IPL GC has an additional challenge, that of finding ways and means to reduce the number of quarantines for players. The schedule needs to be worked out in order to factor that inevitable reality of current international sports competition. Here, various permutations and combinations are being worked out and a period falling between 15 September 15 and 25 November likely to be finalised within the next two weeks.
This fixing of schedule is crucial. For instance, the Australian players have a limited-overs series in England this September. The last of the matches is slated for 15 September and it would be desirable for their IPL players to have just the one quarantine in UAE. England’s 13 players too would need to undergo just that one quarantine.
Likewise, India’s players too could benefit from a favourable schedule. Their chosen ones could go directly from UAE to Australia for the series Down Under, thus enduring just the one quarantine in Australia rather than one in India (returning from IPL) and another in Australia.
In fact, quarantine protocols are a major factor in IPL and beyond. The planning to ensure that almost everyone – players, match officials, support staff, administrators, television media, team officials, franchise owners, etc – undergoes just one quarantine is being meticulously worked out.
The IPL was last held in the UAE in 2014, during the general election in India and as such all concerned are familiar with facilities in Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi. Of course the months of September, October and November should be far more pleasant than the scorching hot months of April and May. The time difference (India is 90 minutes ahead of UAE) too should be ideal for television viewing.
While the decision to allow fans into stadia is a call to be made by the government of UAE, a spectator-less IPL is acceptable to all concerned.
Franchises though would need to travel with a huge contingent to ensure that they have replacement players and net bowlers at all times.
The good part that the Patel-Ganguly-Shah combine would enjoy is that their considerable planning has now given them a two-month buffer to further tweak and fine-tune. The rest is up to the pandemic. Hopefully, it will stay in its trajectory or be contained. IPL cannot afford further disruption. There is only so much that could be planned!
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