Relief all-round as IPL gets green signal
The 13th edition of the Indian Premier League will now be played, only the tournament has been shifted to the United Arab Emirates, in light of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected every major cricket playing nation to some degree.
The tournament, which is the marquee franchise-based event in the global cricket calendar, is usually played in India in the months of April and May. But, with the situation in Indian having not recovered sufficiently to conduct the tournament, it was decided that it would be played in the United Arab Emirates.
The tournament will now begin on September 19 with the final being played on November 10. This schedule announcement meant that 53 days had been set aside for the conduct of the tournament proper, although the Covid-19 protocols, quarantine and other measures would add to the number of days from start to finish of the event.
The matches will be played across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, with night matches starting at 7.30pm IST (6.00pm UAE time), and afternoon matches at 3.30pm IST (2.00pm UAE time).
BCCI insists IPL is priority
In early July, well before the official permissions would come in that ensured that the IPL could be held, Sourav Ganguly, the former India captain who is heading up the BCCI, explained that it was critical that the tournament be conducted.
We want to have it, as I said that cricket needs to be back. For us, it’s off-season at the moment which has actually helped. We finished our domestic season in March and then we had to cancel the IPL, which is the most important part of our domestic season, said Ganguly.
We want IPL to happen because life needs to be back to normal and cricket needs to be back to normal but we don’t have a decision from the ICC regarding the T20 World Cup. But we want to host it, our first priority is India. Whatever time we get, even if we get 35-40 days we will host it We have our fingers crossed, we don’t want the year 2020 to finish without an IPL.
When it eventually became clear that it would be impossible to host the event in India, the UAE emerged as the ideal venue.
New Zealand, which has extremely low Covid-19 cases in comparison to other cricket playing countries, was although thought off as a possible host, but the logistical difficulty and cost involved in getting a large number of players to one of cricket’s most remote outposts ruled this out.
Sri Lanka too offered to host the tournament, in part or full, but the timing made this problematic as the months of September-October-November are times when there is plenty of rain around in the region.
UAE ideally placed to step in
The United Arab Emirates has experience of hosting the IPL, with 20 matches of the 2014 season being played there as the dates clashed with general elections in India.
The eagerness of the UAE Cricket Board to host the event was also a key factor, combined with the region’s ability to ensure a bio-secure bubble, which is currently needed to host a major sporting event of this kind.
“We will definitely want our people to experience this prestigious event but it is totally the government’s decision,” UAE board secretary Mubashshir Usmani said. “For most events here, the number ranges from 30 to 50% capacity, we are looking at a similar number. We are hopeful of getting our government’s approval on that.”
Usmani said that the region had done well to control the spread of the pandemic and this helped bring the tournament over.
The UAE government has been very efficient in bringing down the case numbers,” he said. “We are almost living a normal life with certain rules and protocols to be followed. And with the IPL still some time way, we will be in an even better place than what it is right now. UAE is blessed with the support of private infrastructure. We are able to deliver such events and have delivered before. Last year, we hosted the T20 World Cup qualifier which had 14 teams.
Usmani conceded that it was not one-way traffic with the tournament coming to the Emirates. “Last time also, it contributed significantly to the UAE economy. With the full tournament taking place this time, it will be a much bigger boost.”
Protocol challenges as teams gear up
The focus has been on the protocols that will be in place, dictated by the Standard Operating Procedure, in conjunction with the rules of the Emirates. The first among them was that all players would have to undergo three Covid-19 tests in the first week after their arrival. Only players who tested negative in all three tests could enter the bio-secure bubble that would be their environment for close to 80 days from there on.
Each of the eight teams would be housed in a hotel and interaction would be limited within these hotels. All social distancing protocols, including the wearing of masks, would have to be practiced and the players would be regularly tested for Covid-19. When the tournament moved from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in the second phase, every player would have to have a Covid-19 negative test certificate that was no more than 48 hours old in order to continue.
The other changes to usual IPL systems included limiting the playing squads of each team to only 24. There would be room for Covid-19 substitutes — in the event of a player testing positive and having to isolate another could be called up as replacement as long as he had the necessary clearances.
Spin will be king in the desert, says Dean Jones
Dean Jones, the former Australia batsman and respected television pundit has said that the teams that use spin bowling wisely and tackle slow bowling intelligently when they face it, will have a distinct edge with the IPL being played on the slower and lower pitches of the United Arab Emirates.
“Well, they will be using all three grounds at Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Whenever I have commentated there or coached in the PSL, I can say they all have their individual characteristics. You need to make sure you have got your match-ups right. The major concern for all the teams would be that with so much cricket being played on all three venues, the pitches will get tired and that’s only natural,” Jones told the Hindustan Times newspaper. “So, it might come down to who plays spin better. Some teams might pick three spinners and only two quicks. At the start the pitches will be great to bat on but there is no doubt that they will get tired as the tournament goes on.”
Jones also hoped that the boundaries of the grounds would not be shortened for any reason, allowing the full playing areas to be used wherever possible. “I like it when grounds are played at their normal size. Abu Dhabi is big so it will give some help to the spinners and batsmen need to work on their running between the wickets. Dubai can be made as big ground and you can get caught at the boundary and Sharjah, well you can get hurt if you don’t get it right because mishits go for sixes there. They are all completely different sized grounds and I hope they will stick to the natural sizes of the ground.”
Women’s IPL draws scheduling criticism
The decision of the BCCI to also hold the Women’s IPL concurrently, to make most use of the bio-secure bubble that would be created, came in for criticism as it clashed with the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. Three of India’s top women cricketers were contracted to play in the Australian league but it has now become clear that this will not be possible.
The Women’s IPL is not a full-fledged tournament as such, with three teams playing matches around the same time as the men’s tournament. The Women’s edition of the tournament was designed to give a much-needed boost to the profile of women’s cricket in India.
Alyssa Healy, the Australian star, called the move to schedule the women’s IPL at the same time as the WBBL “dumb” with led to several Indian players, including Jhulan Goswami, defending the decision.