By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) COVID-19, it seems, can be conveniently twisted every way one desires. While the question mark over the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the emerging numbers of COVID cases remains, how the pandemic situation would pan out from October to December – or, from September to April — has been interpreted by the Indian cricket board in interesting and different ways.
For the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the COVID situation would not have been suitable for the T20 World Cup to be staged in India in October-November, and so it was relocated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But the same period – and a little more — for the BCCI would be good enough to stage 2,127 matches of 17 domestic tournaments.
Please note the numbers: in the T20 World Cup, 16 teams would compete and 38 teams will compete in some of the 17 tournaments, like the men’s national championship for the Ranji Trophy, and 37 teams in the senior women’s one-day league.
Also, the BCCI has relocated the remaining part of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) to the UAE, but due to a completely different reason – “considering the monsoon season in India in the months of September-October this year”, in the words of the BCCI.
Same period, but three reasons for three different events:
IPL — September 19 to October 15. Reason for shift to the UAE: Monsoon.
T20 World Cup — October 17 to November 14. Reason for shift to the UAE: COVID-19.
Indian domestic season 2021-22: September 21 to April 11, 2022. Reason for staging it in India: No threat of monsoon and COVID-19.
So, was the T20 World Cup really shifted for the likely impact of monsoon? Or, was it the tax that the BCCI might have had to pay to host the tournament? And, if monsoon was indeed a threat to the IPL, will it not be a threat to the domestic season, because it starts just two days after the IPL begins? Several unanswered questions, you see.
To understand the situation fully, let us remember that a mind boggling 2,127 matches will be played between September 21 and April 11, 2022. And the T20 World Cup was originally going to be held in the same period, at either eight or nine venues in India. Sixteen teams were going to compete in the World Cup – a much easier proposition to accept and execute than the 2,127 domestic matches at many more venues across the length and breadth of this cricket-loving country.
Let me clarify at the outset that these arguments are neither in favour of, nor against, either the T20 World Cup or the IPL or the domestic tournaments. The last two tournaments are the real lifeline of Indian cricket and should be played whenever possible. Domestic tournaments/IPL are also a good source of income to people associated with them, like umpires and scorers, besides players. So, all tournaments should be staged in India, whenever possible.
The only vexing point here is: How can the same period of time, in which a pandemic is raging, or would still be active, be not conducive to one cricket tournament and perfectly suitable to another set of competitions? Alas, Saturday’s 197-word media release of the BCCI did not explain this paradox. One is sure the BCCI would have a valid explanation for the above questions. So, wouldn’t it be ideal to explain it to remove doubts from the minds of one and all?
Of course, no one is against hosting domestic tournaments, particularly as two previous seasons had been affected by the pandemic. But a fool proof, and an alternate, plan has to be made – and shared with all stakeholders – to organise the 2021-22 home season. And the BCCI obviously has sharp and intelligent people to devise the ways and means to be ready with Plan B, and even Plan C, in case the third wave, or the fourth, comes and lasts long enough to disrupt the cricket.
The moot question, therefore, remains: If domestic tournaments can be planned for 203 days in the 2021-22 season, India should have hosted the T20 World Cup as well, isn’t it? So, were there factors other than COVID-19 behind the relocation of the World Cup?
It could be. Tax issues could possibly be one. The International Cricket Council (ICC) had told the BCCI long ago that it would have to be allowed to host the T20 World Cup only if it gets full tax exemption from the central government. ICC also clarified that if the government gave only 10 per cent exemption, the BCCI would have to pay $31 million (around Rs 227 crore) and if the government rejected exemption completely, then it would have to pay $124 million (around Rs 907 crore) tax to be eligible to host the tournament.
While no one knows whether the government granted or not the full tax exemption some people are guessing that THIS could be the real reason for the relocation of the T20 World Cup, and not the potential COVID-19 waves, if any, that might have affected the tournament three-and-a-half months later. Also, some people argue that if the COVID indeed was the reason for shifting of the World Cup, why host domestic matches in the same period that is being seen as potentially explosive vis-à-vis the third, or the fourth, wave.
Some state cricket associations are perplexed at all this. “It is funny. Seems like the COVID-19 situation has improved within three days [the announcement of the T20 World Cup being relocated to the UAE due to COVID-19 was made on June 28] and the danger of third wave, or the fourth wave, has been averted! Either that, or the BCCI thinks that safety and health of domestic cricketers is not as important as that of international cricketers,” a senior state body official who did not wish to be identified told IANS.
Also, there will be a major issue of vaccination of all the players who are picked for domestic tournaments. And under-19 tournaments for boys and girls are scheduled, as per the schedule, the BCCI has announced. Will vaccines be available in India before these under age tournaments start, and will all the players be inoculated for these competitions? These are serious questions that need convincing answers. The BCCI is capable of answering them to the satisfaction of all. The need is that someone should do it quickly.