BCCI holds fire on cancelling IPL as huge cost of failure to resume becomes apparent

The BCCI is refusing to give up on its money-spinning flagship tournament even as players from overseas peruse airline schedules for obscure routes home – or at least to a place of greater safety than a nation now ravaged by nearly 4,000 new Covid deaths daily.

After the plug was pulled – at least temporarily – following more positive tests among players, Rajeev Shukla, a BCCI vice president, was keen to stress that the tournament had only been “postponed”, not cancelled, while an unnamed official pointed to a “window” in September before the T20 World Cup, which is due to be staged in India in October and November.

Shukla told Star Sports, which pays a little over 3,300 crore a year (about £330m) to broadcast the tournament: “I want to make it clear that IPL 2021 has been not cancelled. It has been suspended, it has been postponed, it has been deferred, so it will happen. The remaining part of this year’s IPL will happen. But in due course, when the Covid situation improves, a decision will be taken about it.”

And the ANI news agency quoted an individual it referred to as “in the know of developments” as saying: “If foreign players are available and the Covid-19 situation is under control we can definitely look at that window before the T20 World Cup. It can in fact act as a good preparation ground for the showpiece event.”

The logistical problems can hardly be overstated with that scenario. England’s five-Test series against India does not conclude until September 14 and England’s T20 side is due in Pakistan for two matches a month later. The games in Pakistan are England’s first there since 2005 and as well as serving as a warm-up for the T20 World Cup in similar conditions are also a thank you to the PCB for coming to England for the Test series last summer.

It seems unlikely that they would be impressed if a number of leading England stars were allowed to miss those games by being lured back by their arch-rivals.

Adding to the confusion is that if the Covid situation in India has not improved by the autumn, the T20 World Cup itself could be moved to the UAE. The ICC disclosed last week that it was planning for that contingency. While some have suggested that the IPL could theoretically be staged there first, the difficulties of putting the eight IPL teams plus all the international ones into separate bubbles – albeit there will be a certain amount of crossover – may prove too complex.

With 31 matches still to be played, there would also need to be a series of double headers or thought given to using other grounds apart from Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai: All-Daid Cricket Village was used for the 2009 and 2015 Asian Cricket Council T20 cups, and is a multi-sports facility with floodlights, and there is a cricket oval in Ajman, the smallest of the seven Emirates.

You can understand why the BCCI is so keen to keep the door open to a resumption. It is estimated that losses could amount to about 2,000 crore (about £200m) if the governing body is forced to repay money for almost half a tournament to its broadcaster, sponsors and partners.

For the moment, Star and partners such as fantasy cricket site Dream 11, have issued statements saying they support the postponement – Harsha Jain, the Dream 11 chief executive, said the health and safety of the players “is far more important than any business impact” – but it remains to be seen whether or for how long such a united front persists.

In the meantime, it is the Australian cricketers and backroom staff who are most stuck in limbo. As widely reported yesterday, their government is refusing to authorize direct flights between the two nations until May 15 at the earliest while warning those trying to find alternative passages home they face fines or jail. England players, in contrast, will have to quarantine for 10 days unless a sporting exemption is made.

Michael Slater, the Australia former opener who has been commentating on the tournament, fled for the Maldives yesterday and then accused his country’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, of “having blood on his hands”.

But Pat Cummins, the bowler with Kolkata Knight Riders, struck a more conciliatory tone, saying: “Once we flew out of Australia we knew we were signing up for 14 days’ quarantine coming home, so you always feel that little bit further away from getting home.

“As soon as the hard border shut, obviously no-one has experienced that before. It added a bit of anxiety for a few of the Aussies over here. But we signed up to play the tournament until the start of June. Hopefully it all reopens on May 15 and we’ll be able to get back.”