Luck deserts Knight Riders but in a land ravaged by disease, is the IPL a welcome or unwelcome distraction?

Eoin Morgan was fourth man out in a faltering Kolkata Knight Runners innings today in one of the most unfortunate ways to be dismissed in cricket, run out without facing a delivery.

Anyone who has watched or played the game knows that it ranks second only to being run out backing up, when the bowler following through trails a finger down and, sometimes with judgement but more often luck, deflects the ball on to the stumps.

As Morgan trooped off, shaking his head and wearing a smile that commentators like to describe as “wry”, those people will have empathised with the England captain and reflected on the cruelties of sport – cricket being one of those that exposes cruelties better than many others.

But would we be right to feel that empathy in the context of what is going on in India?

Are we right also to look at those connected to the teams who have somehow gained entry to the grounds at which the IPL is being staged and feel for them, hands clasped in front of their faces as a game goes down to the wire, and they focus intently on whether Andre Russell’s railway sleeper of a bat will get their team over the line, and feel some compassion towards them.

In a country that has just registered 2,624 deaths, a daily record, from Covid, and risks being cut off as others rush to protect their own borders, does not the IPL – and its riches – sit somewhat incongruously alongside?

There are two ways of looking at it: that it is, indeed, obscene, and should be immediately cancelled out of respect to the thousands who are left outside hospitals, in some cases to gasp their last breath in the continuing shortfall in oxygen; or, that at least it is providing some entertainment, helping people in the middle of the disaster take their minds off, however briefly, the chaos that is engulfing them; that it provides some sort of welcome distraction.

There is also the argument that it keeps people at home – Mumbai, where today’s match also featuring the Rajasthan Royals was being staged, is something of a ghost town right now, according to news reports, the streets that usually throng with humanity, life and colour, completely quiet.

Let’s look first at the morality of the question: one of Guerilla Cricket’s tweeters pointed out during Thursday’s match that the tournament was unlikely to be called off because tragedy and good fortune have historically been bedfellows in India.

And indeed, it is true that there are many cities throughout the world where rampant poverty rubs shoulders with almost sickening affluence on a daily basis nobody asks that those outside the less fortunate areas to rein back on their entertainments or distractions. Or if they do – as happened in Brazil at the 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Olympics – their governments usually find a way to silence them.

It is also true, as so many people say after some form of catastrophe, whether individual or collective, that life goes on. That life has to go on.

As someone with knowledge of the situation in India explained to me today: “When you have several members of your family and half your friends infected and in hospital, you need something that does not drive you into depression. That’s what the IPL is currently doing within the bubble. As long as that bubble is safe I see merit in it continuing.”

And indeed, while sport in the UK did stop during the pandemic – even the jamboree that is the Premier League – it started again when it was considered safe to do so. And who would disagree that the selflessness of those from West Indies and Pakistan who put themselves through privations to provide us at least with some televised cricket throughout the summer and autumn, did not provide a great – even a much needed – service?

But let’s look at that question of safety in the bubble again. Can it ever be truly safe? In South Africa last winter there were worries when hotel staff picked up the virus and England had to leave their white-ball tour. In Pakistan, a hotel where the players were staying during the Super League allowed other guests into areas that should have been off limits, while coaches and officials were pulled up for leaving the bubble and returning to it without observing the correct protocols.

Yet that tournament was only postponed – the restart is planned for the beginning of June – when the virus impacted upon a group of players.

Some have argued, with a certain cynicism, that the only chance of the IPL being cancelled – surely, in this crowded programme there could be no talk of it picking up where it left off even if the Covid emergency eases – is if the virus does find its way into the players’ bubble.

And if it does, how would the IPL handle growing pressure for a cancellation? Can we be sure that arguments that it should continue to provide an oasis of entertainment amid the desert of disease would not be just a smokescreen for those who would have money to lose?

At Guerilla Cricket, we are keen to continue to provide our commentary of the tournament but there is among some of us at least, a certain sense of distaste, a feeling that in some way we can’t truly verbalise, this is not quite right. Yet we are still at one remove from events. We are not feeling the despair on the streets. Even though we have had 130,000 deaths in the UK, the health service has – perhaps only narrowly and very few thanks to our Government – avoided being completely overwhelmed.

But if I had two parents in the next room to me gasping for air and I was unable to get them into a medical facility, I’m not sure that any amount of pulsating sport would bring me solace.

Back at the Wankhede, Rajasthan Royals picked up a second win, by six wickets and with nine balls to spare, Chris Morris, with four for 23 and a relatively restrained Sanju Samson and David Miller guiding them home with the bat. But whether they were happy with their own performances, or like Morgan, taking in the disappointment of a defeat that nails the Knight Riders to the bottom of the table, they must know, deep down, that these are just fleeting feelings in a land where there are much more serious emotions that need to be taken into account.

Broadcast Schedule

England v West Indies 2024
ENG v WI 3rd Test, Edgbaston
26th July to 30th July
Start time: 11:00 am BST