It was always going to be hard. And the humongous Covid surge from early April made it near impossible to stage a safe IPL. The little chance the BCCI had may have been compromised with travel included in the itinerary.
That’s where in all likelihood the bubbles were compromised, with multiple players across multiple teams testing positive. And once that starts to happen there is an inevitability to the whole thing. The IPL, for all practical purposes, turned untenable.
What’s important to state is that none of the players had breached bubble regulations. There were four bubble integrity managers assigned to each team and no breach in protocol has been reported. Also, the theory that Varun Chakrabarty picked up the infection in hospital when he went for a scan having experienced abdominal pain doesn’t seem true. KKR CEO Venky Mysore confirmed that he had travelled in a bubble car and left the hospital in under 10 minutes, with exposure to just the technician and another hospital staff at the lab.
For the record, the technician or the staff haven’t shown any symptoms and were both double-dose vaccinated. It’s being surmised that Varun picked up the infection during travel. If all the infections are analysed, seven of them in all, each has manifested within 5-7 days of teams undertaking air travel.
In the absence of tarmac to tarmac flights, travel may have been instrumental in compromising the IPL. The bubbles considered safe turned porous and BCCI was left with no option but to suspend the tournament. It was a safer option to host it in the UAE for the second year running. The plan of hosting it in multiple locations in India turned into a nightmare.
Regarding the World T-20 in October, the venue has to be finalised sooner rather than later and at this point it’s more than likely the tournament will move to the UAE. IPL’s suspension has rung alarm bells round the cricket world and nations like England, Australia, New Zealand will be seriously jittery about sending their contingents to India. The IPL was an eight-team affair with six venues across the country. The World Cup is a 16-team affair with nine venues chosen.
To get teams to travel around nine cities when a third wave is being predicted can turn into another catastrophe. While vaccination would certainly have picked pace and the third wave could in reality turn into a bump rather than a wave if expert medical advice is acted on, ICC will certainly not want to take a chance. BCCI too, with the failed IPL experiment in front of us, will be apprehensive in trying a second time.
In all this there are three very important learnings. First, no bubble is 100% secure against the virus, especially if you include travel. Second, hard quarantine at the start of a tournament remains the best option to eliminate any early scare – that was successfully done during IPL. But when there is a second round of cases, the hard quarantine option is ruled out because the reset reboot scenario involves time, which in most cases organisers don’t have. If IPL could have paused for a two-week period, it could have been resumed but in all fairness that’s not possible with India and New Zealand playing the world Test championship final in June. Third, with the country in the midst of a surge, had BCCI opted not to go beyond Mumbai and Chennai after the first phase it may have had a chance.
Finally, if anyone is rejoicing at IPL’s suspension, he or she needs to take into account a simple fact. With the suspension, add several hundred thousand Indians to the list of men and women who have lost livelihoods as a result of the second wave. The IPL ecosystem supports a mini-society. It was never about the star players only and never will be.
Frankly, even after 15 months there are things we don’t know about the virus. What we do know however is that it’s still supremely powerful and any risk, like undertaking multi-city travel, can cause a catastrophic outcome.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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