The IPL this year was a risky proposition, and a breach of the bio-bubble was always possible
The Indian Premier League’s suspension effective from Tuesday was an inevitable full stop considering India’s continuing trauma with COVID-19 and the breach of the tournament’s much-vaunted bio-bubble. Until the emergence of the COVID-positive results of Kolkata Knight Riders’ Sandeep Warrier and Varun Chakravarthy; Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Wriddhiman Saha; Delhi Capitals’ Amit Mishra, Chennai Super Kings’ bowling coach L. Balaji and a member of the squad’s logistics staff, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was in denial-mode, firmly believing that its bio-bubble protocols cannot be breached. BCCI officials also insisted that the league is not a super-spreader like election rallies or other permitted activities where crowds were allowed to assemble. That both fans and the media were kept away from the venues was cited as an example of how strict the IPL management was with regard to social-distancing. Besides this, the constant testing of everyone in the bubble was seen as another fail-safe method to ensure that the league did not turn into a coronavirus hotspot. But before the final denouement, what jarred was the tone-deafness of having matches in Delhi while beyond the ground, the accompanying note was that of ambulances blaring their sirens while patients gasped for oxygen. Even if the league has its share of a massive television audience and offers a diversion to the viewers, having Delhi as a host was extremely insensitive.
The IPL’s 14th edition is at the crossroads, a reality which it had avoided since its launch in 2008. The cash-rich league always found a way to sidestep obstacles. During three general elections, the championship either fully or partially leant on neutral venues. There was also the incident of low intensity blasts just outside Bengaluru’s M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 17, 2010, ahead of a match featuring Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians. It is an event that has faded from public memory but on that ominous day, two bombs went off, injuring a few and a third was found, which was immediately defused. The contest started an hour late and the IPL continued unhindered. But the latest crisis due to a pandemic is something that humankind has never faced since the Spanish Flu in 1918. Meanwhile, the board officials are hinting about resuming the league later this year in the United Arab Emirates, which also hosted the 13th leg. But for that the virus should wane and most countries have suspended flights from India, with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison not even permitting a chartered flight with the IPL’s Aussie players. To find a window in a packed international cricket schedule will be arduous even if the last word on the IPL’s tenuous resumption is yet to be spoken.