How IPL 2021 was stumped by Covid-19

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on May 4, 2021 | Last updated on May 4, 2021 at 11.58 pm
The Indian cricket board was caught on the wrong foot. (BCCI)

Playing this season of the IPL in the UAE would have been safest option

The IPL2021 was called off on Tuesday afternoon after an emergency meeting between BCCI officials and the Governing Council of the League, less than 24 hours after news emerged of two KKR players, Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier, testing positive for Covid.

Monday night's match between RCB and KKR obviously had to be cancelled, as protocol demanded that the Kolkata team be isolated for five days. IPL authorities announced this match would be rescheduled, and the tournament would go on.

But even before that decision could reach complete amplification, news emerged from the CSK camp that three of their members, including bowling coach Laxmipathy Balaji, had also tested positive, which eliminated the prospects of the Chennai team playing on Thursday.

Despite this double whammy, the BCCI, keeping a bold front, said that the tournament itinerary would be further rejigged (meaning more double headers), but the show would go on.

Tuesday morning, however, everything went kaput.

Wriddhiman Saha of the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who were supposed to play Tuesday night's match against Mumbai Indians, tested positive.

And couples of hours later, even Amit Mishra of the Delhi Capitals had a positive result.

Seven cases in under a day from four different teams parked in two different venues (Delhi and Ahmedabad), was clear indication that the dreaded virus had breached the bio-secure bubble of various teams. The die was cast.

This IPL season had been contentious from the start. With India starting to reel from the sledgehammer blow of the Covid second wave, debate had raged whether it was moral and ethical to play the tournament when people outside the bubble, in hospitals, homes and streets of several cities, were dying.

Critics of the IPL called it a macabre exercise. Proponents said the league at least afforded a beleaguered people some respite from the overwhelming tragedy around them, apart from providing jobs to more than 100,000 people in the eco-system. Opinion was divided down the middle.

Ultimately, it was not one or the other side of the debate that precipitated the suspension, but the deadly virus itself. Once the bio-secure bubble was breached and players were getting affected, it was no go.

But the virus was always a lurking and more dangerous threat. Had the BCCI been attentive, there was a lesson to be learnt from how the Pakistan Super League had to be suspended when several players of a particular team tested positive.

It is still unclear about how the bubble was breached in the IPL. Was it because of a player's visit to a hospital (done under the bubble protocol)? Or was it for some other reason?

It's difficult to say. Some people from the BCCI, without wanting to be named, say that discipline in such matters is always difficult to enforce in sub-continent countries, where a chalta hai (it's okay) attitude is prevalent.

Some say that the travel involved between venues was always a vulnerability. "You may take a charter flight, but who knows what the condition of the pilot, crew of the craft and people at airports might be,'' said one official I reached out to.

He said that this is the reason playing this season too in the UAE would have been safest. "Implementation of Covid SOPs is strictly enforced there, and also there was no travel involved for teams. The distance from hotel to ground would be an hour and a half at most between Emirates, and everybody was within the bubble, including drivers and loaders etc," he said.

According to him, this proposal was mooted in the meetings of the BCCI and IPL Governing Council, even pushed for by some franchises, but nothing went beyond table top discussions.

What perhaps lulled the BCCI was that the series against England, stretching from February to the last week of March, went off successfully.

Nobody paid attention to the second wave of the pandemic that was building up before the start of the IPL. Had the BCCI been plugged in to the Covid (mis)management in the country, the decision to play at home would never have been taken.

The decision to play in India, and choice of venues, seemed to be a result of political exigency than acute understanding of the pandemic.

In this, the central and state governments that benefited from staging matches, were equally complicit.

Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad (which does not even have a franchise) were hotspots and could have been avoided. Matches could have been scheduled instead in Hyderabad and Mohali, which have teams too, but were ignored despite protests.

Like the central government in the national context, the BCCI got lulled into a false sense of security, took its eyes off the ball, and had the stumps uprooted.

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