The IPL failed by ignoring stark warning signs of India’s Covid crisis | Anand Vasu
It’s better to leave people asking why you have stopped something rather than what took you so long. This is the rule of thumb applied to people retiring from public life, sports people mainly but occasionally politicians, singers, actors and others similarly in the limelight.
Timing is everything. And the Indian Premier League, which was suspended for the season on Tuesday, comprehensively failed on this count.
From when it began, the clock was ticking, the warning signs were writ large, and yet they were ignored. To put together a tournament of this scale – eight teams with bulging squads of players, coaches, support staff – and have it run without a hitch is difficult in the best of times.
These are the worst of times in India, with death and destruction all around. To pull off a tournament of this scale without serious collateral damage was impossible. This is something that should have been acknowledged even by the most powerful and ambitious people running cricket. And yet it was not.
There are obvious reasons for this. The powers that be in India wanted to show that anything could be overcome. The money involved meant that literally everyone involved, directly or indirectly, had to say all was well to justify undertaking an exercise that was this year estimated to generate £318m for Indian cricket.
But, if the 2021 IPL had to be staged, was there a better way to do it?
The starting point would have been to hold the tournament in the United Arab Emirates, as had been done in the previous year. Protocols in the region are far more stringently enforced than in India, and the rate of infections and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic were far more encouraging there.
If the tournament had to be held in India, and there was no compelling reason to do so given that matches would be played in empty stadiums anyway, what was the best way to do this? As early as March, those overseeing the logistics suggested the tournament be played in Mumbai and Pune only.
Mumbai has two grounds that host international cricket, the Wankhede Stadium and the Brabourne Stadium, and the DY Patil Stadium which has hosted IPL matches. Additionally, there are numerous grounds that can be used as practice and training facilities. The ground in Pune, actually in the suburb of Gahunje, is perhaps one hour by road from the DY Patil Stadium.
The same caravan system of two venues could have been accommodated in a much tighter bubble, with no need for flights.
But those suggestions were ignored. The opaque Board of Control for Cricket in India has not said why this happened, but it is possible to venture a guess. The ground allotted the most matches in IPL 2021, including the play-offs and the final, was the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
This is the home ground of the BCCI secretary, Jay Shah, in the home city of the current prime minister, after whom the stadium was recently renamed. How would you justify giving the most matches, and the most important ones, to this stadium, if you played the rest of the tournament elsewhere?
That said, it seems this roll of the dice has not paid off for the BCCI. The next Twenty20 World Cup is set to be played in India in October and November this year. Successfully staging the IPL at home was meant to be a way of proving all was well. Or as well as can be in these times.
All is not well. While it is unlikely there will be any news forthcoming on the Twenty20 World Cup immediately, it is difficult now to see the International Cricket Council courting a repeat of what happened at the IPL: cancellation, or suspension if you will, in the middle of the event.
The IPL is the BCCI’s baby so it can do as it pleases, even if the outcomes are far from ideal, but a world event such as the Twenty20 World Cup does not belong to one country alone. You can be sure Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board will be weighing in strongly, especially as the BCCI has now given them a stick to wield.
For the moment, the end of the 2021 IPL means India’s cricket-loving population will have to find something else to occupy themselves with each evening. Only last week, Hemang Amin, the IPL chief executive, was telling teams they were playing for “humanity” and that the bio-bubble they were in was the safest possible.
The problem with bubbles, though, is that they are not made to last. The higher they go, the more likely they are to burst. All that is left now is to see how the foreign players who came to the IPL – eyes wide open, heads full of dreams and millions – deal with the fallout and get back home safely.
The IPL says it will do all in its power to ensure repatriation – but, at the end of the day, even the IPL is not as powerful as it thinks it is.