By Khurram Habib
Indian Premier League (IPL), the super baby and golden goose of the country’s cricket board which drew the worlds best cricketers to India and forced other boards to change their international roster, has turned homeless this year and is instead looking for a window in a busy international calendar.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in its hastiness to show that it is well prepared to host the T20 World Cup this October-November, went ahead with the tournament despite there being reservations about the Covid situation. It even went ahead and held the tournament in multiple venues, and not at one or two venues as was being discussed initially with the franchises. Both Delhi and Ahmedabad, that hosted the second phase, saw possible breaches in first-class grounds where practice sessions were scheduled. The breach could also have happened during travel. The players and support staff, who contracted the Covid-19 virus that led to the suspension of the tournament, are themselves unsure where they got the infection from.
The breach in bio-bubble has now put the BCCI and its money-spinning IPL in a soup and instead of being able show to the world that the country is fit to host the T20 World Cup, it is likely that the tournament will be shifted out.
A decision will be taken soon, but as Michael Hussey was recently quoted as saying in the media, it will be tough for cricket boards to send teams to India now. No wonder, even having IPL in India at the moment is far-fetched.
Finding an alternate venue for IPL is not a problem. Venues in England have shown interest, Sri Lanka too has expressed willingness to host the remainder of IPL, while the UAE looks the best option with all the infrastructure and system in place. Australia and New Zealand, if approached, could also offer to host.
The problem is the magnitude at which IPL is played. It involves the world’s best players and is easily the most sought-after league.
Rescheduling any other T20 franchise league like Pakistan Super League, Caribbean Premier League or Australia’s Big Bash T20 league isn’t that big a problem for the number of big names and the money that players get isn’t as huge as in IPL. Many of the stars in those leagues are the country’s international and domestic players. But in IPL, the world’s best compete and it will be tough to assemble them in one place at one time.
It was agreed upon, even if unofficially, by boards that April-May period is reserved for IPL. Teams, other than Pakistan whose players are not allowed in IPL, wouldn’t schedule international fixtures during this phase.
However, the IPL’s suspension now has left other boards in a quandary. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) recently said that they won’t let their players to miss international commitments.
Amid all this emerged news of BCCI’s request to ECB to advance the Test series by a week so that the Indian board can host the remainder of IPL in UAE and follow it up with the T20 World Cup at the same venue. While ECB had denied it, it is believed it was an unofficial request floated by the BCCI.
Advancing the series by a week will give BCCI 20-22 days to conduct the remainder of IPL. As per current schedule, there is only a month’s time between the end of India-England series and the start of the T20 World Cup, slated to begin in mid-October and end in mid-November. Immediately after that, is the Ashes series between England and Australia.
England has a packed schedule in its own summer, beginning in June. Their schedule is made months, even one year, in advance. Add to that they are launching The Hundred – a 100-ball competition – this year. It will be held in July and August and all England international stars are expected to play the first few matches to attract eyeballs. Advancing the India Test series by a week would mean the series will begin on July 27, just six days after The Hundred starts forcing a lot of England’s international stars to miss the 100-ball tournament.
Unlike the Indian cricket board, with which even July’s limited-overs series in Sri Lanka is not yet properly scheduled, ECB is more organised with its schedule.
The venues are prepared, sponsors are signed, travel and hotel bookings are made, tickets are up for sale – all this is done months and even a year in advance. It is no surprise, according to British newspaper The Times, that tickets for the first three days of the fifth and final Test between India and England in mid-September have already been sold out.
“ECB cannot relent because the English counties which are hosting matches, international and The Hundred, will be up against them. There is a lot at stake. It is not just the counties but other stakeholders too,” said an official in the know of things.
That leaves the BCCI with a month between the England series and the T20 World Cup. It will be tough to fit the IPL there considering the current quarantine rules, the exhaustion of players and the fact that England and Australia play their first Test on December 8 of the Ashes series, which is again scheduled well in advance and is the biggest money-spinning series in Test cricket.
Neither England, nor Australia will give away a piece of it, and without England and Aussie players the IPL is as good as an Indian domestic tournament with just a few India and foreign stars.