The show went on for as long as it could, but once the first COVID positive tests within bio-secure bubbles since the start of the tournament were reported on Monday, it was always a matter of when rather than whether.
Two players from Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and as many non-playing members of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) contingent testing positive for the coronavirus forced the rescheduling of Monday night’s contest between KKR and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in Ahmedabad.
When news of two India internationals representing different franchises – Wriddhiman Saha (Sunrisers Hyderabad) and Amit Mishra (Delhi Capitals) – also contracting the virus emerged on Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had little option but to suspend Season 14 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) indefinitely.
RThat decision was a no-brainer, dictated as much by practicality as prudence. With members of half the participating teams having necessarily to go into quarantine and return a series of negative tests before being allowed to take the field, the schedule was bound to be thrown topsy-turvy.
The possibility of further positive tests, the understandable apprehension of players homegrown and overseas, and the unabated rise in infections countrywide all served to take the world’s most eagerly anticipated franchise tournament to a logical if premature denouement.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a strident cry from concentrated pockets about the continuance of the tournament in the midst of the greatest tragedy to have ever befallen the country. Perceived insensitivity, callousness and indifference on the part of the BCCI, the IPL and the players were highlighted time and again. Resources being diverted – or purchased, depending on how one viewed it – to the conduct of the tournament was questioned at a time when the common man was struggling for care, beds, medication and oxygen.
It wasn’t as if the powers-that-be turned a deaf ear to the sustained vitriol. But they were quite slow to react to the goings-on. Franchises gradually woke from their slumber to contribute financially to the fight against COVID, as did players. Especially in the last 10 days, there have been repeated messages of adherence to safety protocols from players as well as television commentators, though some of the latter hardly covered themselves in their glory with puerile giggling during matches when greater restraint in deference to the gravity of the situation was the absolute requirement.
However, the overall visible response has been positively overwhelming, not least from the BCCI, which had announced a contribution of Rs 51 crore to relief measures last year but has maintained a studied silence this time round.
With the benefit of hindsight, should the IPL not have been held at all? Opinion will remain divided, as it has been for now. The bigger question perhaps should be whether the IPL should have been held in India.
From as early as towards the end of last year, Brijesh Patel, the chairman of the IPL’s governing council, had steadfastly advocated the conduct of the tournament in the UAE, like last year. The former India batsman is a seasoned administrator, having served as secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association for nearly a decade and half, and pitched for another flawless edition in the Emirates.
The more influential office-bearers in the BCCI were keen that the tournament return to India, if only to showcase that if they could pull off the IPL without incident, there need be no concerns over their ability to successfully host the Twenty20 World Cup in October-November. It’s a decision that might yet come back to bite them where it hurts the most.
The need for the IPL encompassed several aspects, with finance at the forefront. These financial considerations have tended to be viewed from the prism of the BCCI and its well-to-do superstars.
To the marquee players, the scrapping of the tournament wouldn’t have sparked a big setback. But what of the majority who rely on cricket for a livelihood, and whose shot at making ends meet received a serious jolt due to a severely restricted domestic season? What about the umpires and the scorers and the statisticians, the analysts and the ground staff, not one of whom is a multi-millionaire and many of whom are their families’ sole bread-winners?
Life versus livelihood is a debate that has been raging worldwide, particularly in India since the 42-day lockdown last summer. People were forced to drop out of jobs or accept crippling pay-cuts because there was no other option.
As if the air of dread sparked by the spread of the coronavirus wasn’t stifling enough, there were equally pressing problems to contend with. Not only did those woes affect the populace tangibly, it also catalysed depression and mounting mental health issues, both still with ridiculous stigmas attached to them in a society which dismisses these illnesses as weaknesses.
Escape from reality
IPL 2021 was to be a temporary balm, an escape from reality for four hours every night for 50 nights in a row. It was to briefly help dissipate negativity, a welcome diversion from news channels and social media where toxicity has touched new heights. Whether it kept people indoors, as several interested parties claim, is a moot point – those who want to watch will watch – but the fact that millions tuned in game after game was a pointer to the overall sentiment of a nation now desperate to escape from the vice-like clutches of the second wave of the pandemic.
Admittedly, there was no indication of the unchecked mushrooming of cases when the schedule for the IPL was drawn up, or even when the first ball was bowled in Chennai on April 9. But that hardly excuses the inability to look at the larger picture of a board headed by a former India captain.
With the calendar being what it is, it is all but certain that nothing short of a miracle will resuscitate IPL 2021. In that perhaps lies the biggest lesson for the ivory tower-closeted decision-makers – treat the goose that lays the golden egg with the respect it deserves, don’t take it for granted.