After IPL suspension, uncertainty looms large over T20 World Cup, writes A L I Chougule

Last Tuesday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) called off the half-finished Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 after players and support staff of various franchises tested positive for Covid-19. The indefinite suspension of the annual cricket bonanza, the biggest moneyspinner for the BCCI, which in turn is also the biggest contributor to the finances of the IPL teams, could be a big financial setback for both.

As the BCCI was left with no choice but to suspend the league after multiple positive cases propped up in various franchises, cancelling the league after 29 matches seemed to be the only sensible thing to do to help contain the spread of the virus and not risk the health of players and support staff, as the pandemic is raging across the country, particularly in the cities where the remaining 31 matches were to be played – Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Bangalore.

Come September?

As the league has been postponed and players have been sent back home, it is unlikely that ‘postponement’ means that the league will restart in the next few weeks, given that the IPL will need a six-week window if it were to resume – four weeks of the tournament and one week each for quarantine and training. Therefore, there doesn’t seem to be a window open for IPL’s resumption at least till September.

India will be playing New Zealand in the World Test Championship final in Southampton, England, from June 18 to 22. Moreover, from July to September, India is scheduled to play Sri Lanka and then England, as per the ICC’s future tour programme. In October and November, we will be hosting the men’s T20 World Cup, after which the home series against the New Zealand will be played in India. This will be followed by India’s away tour of South Africa. Thus, the possibility of the IPL happening this year is ruled out, unless BCCI finds a window after the T20 World Cup.

Last year, the 13th season of the league was played in the UAE in a ‘bio-secure environment’ between September and October even at great risk to players and increased overheads, logistic challenges and safety issues. It would have been quite sensible for the BCCI to move the tournament to UAE again this year, simply because it didn’t make sense to hold the league in India at a time when the country is battling a massive Covid-19 second wave.

When the first leg of the tournament began in Chennai and Mumbai on April 9, the BCCI sounded confident of successfully hosting the cash-rich tournament at home amid pandemic concerns. At the time, India’s Covid graph was rising, with daily new cases at around 1.5 lakh and there was enough evidence and warning of a massive spike in cases towards the end of April and in May.

'Positivity and cheer'

While the IPL was criticised for being insensitive and blind to the raging pandemic beyond the stadium walls, the BCCI was also panned for being less distressed about the pandemic and the all-round suffering in its wake but more concerned more about profits. The BCCI’s rationale in holding the IPL as an attempt to “bring in some positivity and cheer” in these “difficult times” didn’t make sense when people were, as former England footballer and TV commentator Gary Lineker exclaimed in a tweet, “dying faster than runs are being scored for crying out loud”.

Agreed, the IPL is great entertainment. Apart from showcasing extraordinary talent and great cricketing skills, it is also India’s leading prime-time entertainer, on par with daily soaps, as far as TV ratings are concerned. But when the league was being played in Mumbai, the city was reeling under rising Covid cases and was under lockdown-like restrictions and the situation in the rest of India wasn’t any less worrying.

After the matches in Chennai and Mumbai, when the IPL caravan moved to Delhi and Ahmedabad, Delhi was under a strict lockdown and the country’s capital was facing an acute oxygen shortage. At the time, India was also reporting around 3.5 lakh Covid cases a day and the Covid situation in Gujarat was as bad as in some of the badly affected states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. By April 28, when the first match was played in Delhi, five players had pulled out of the tournament. Maybe the IPL bio-bubble was “probably the safest place in the country”, as Delhi Capital coach Ricky Ponting said, but as he admitted, the situation had become more about “what’s happening outside” than what was happening inside the bio-bubble. Certainly, the tournament couldn’t have gone ahead as planned.

That better sense prevailed and the BCCI postponed the tournament indefinitely is a welcome decision. Had it decided not to hold the IPL in India, it would have been a better decision; moving it to the UAE would have been even better, which would have saved the BCCI the embarrassment of facing criticism for its obsession with profits in the midst of a massive health crisis in the country. Now that the tournament has been suspended, its financial implications will affect all stakeholders of the league – the BCCI, franchises and broadcaster Star India – and the central revenue pool, which is split 50:50 between the BCCI and franchises, is estimated to take a hit of around Rs 2,000 crore, if the suspended tournament does not resume this year.

Bottomline matters

Star India pays Rs 54.4 crore per match to the BCCI. If the remaining matches are not played this year, Star will not pay for 31 matches, which is reportedly around Rs 1,600 crore. Same rule will apply to title sponsors Vivo and other official partners – reportedly around Rs 225 crore and Rs 150 crore, respectively. This means the BCCI will earn only 50 per cent of the total committed amount for this year from the IPL. According to reports, last year, the BCCI earned around Rs 4,000 crore from the IPL, which was held in the UAE without crowd attendance. IPL 2021, which was also held in a bio-secure environment and purely on a broadcast platform, was expected to bring in around the same amount of money for the BCCI.

One of the reasons behind hosting this year’s IPL in India, according to reports, was to set an example for hosting the 16-nation T20 World Cup in October and November. However, with the IPL getting postponed indefinitely midway through the season, the chances of hosting the T20 World Cup now appear less likely. If unconfirmed reports are to be believed, the T20 tournament could well be played in the UAE, with the BCCI playing the host. This is because of the fear and predictions of the third Covid wave hitting India in the last quarter of the year, which would make maintaining a bio-secure bubble quite difficult. Even if the T20 World Cup is held in India, it’s going to be huge challenge for the BCCI to conduct the international tournament at multiple venues that would involve a lot of travelling for teams and their support staff.

The writer is an independent senior journalist

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