Glitzy, gaudy, yet irresistibly glamorous, the IPL is not short of suitors wanting to host a resumption of its interrupted 2021 edition.
Even some of our most grizzled red ball traditionalist Guerillas, including this author, had begun warming to the obvious but nonetheless beguiling charms of the World’s leading T20 franchise tournament.
That said, as we all feel desperately for India in its battle with Covid, there was no doubt that as the country was decimated by the pandemic, the continuation of the cricket felt incongruous and misguided.
As Nasser Hussein observed: “Players would have seen on their TVs people pleading for hospital beds and oxygen. They would have seen unused ambulances waiting outside cricket grounds and wondered whether it was right for them to carry on playing. And they would have been uncomfortable”.
The right decision was unmistakably made. But, no sooner had that happened, than others around the world, in countries coming out of the ravages of Covid, had invited the IPL circus to pitch its tent on their beach, desert or village green. Like peacocks fanning their tails in the direction of the most alluring peahen, they are competing for her attention and looking to turn her head in their direction.
So should a September resumption come, where might it be? Which peacock offers the best prospects for La Belle IPL?
The very latest candidate to emerge is Sri Lanka. The boy (or girl) next door, whose own cricketing fortunes have suffered in recent years and who yet may just woo the franchise juggernaut to its island shores.
Outgoing management committee chairperson Arjuna de Silva has thrown Sri Lanka’s cap into the ring.
“Yes, we can certainly provide a window to host the IPL in the month of September,” he told the Deccan Chronicle.
“We hear the UAE is their one option but Sri Lanka cannot be ignored for all sorts of reasons. We are planning to host the Lanka Premier League in July-August and the grounds and other infrastructure will be ready for the IPL in September.”
Proximity and readiness are in Sri Lanka’s favour, but De Silva is due to be replaced at the top of Sri Lankan cricket later this month, so it remains to be seen whether the offer remains beyond his departure.
Also, on Friday, Sri Lanka recorded 1,914 cases of coronavirus as the infection rate continues to rise there.
A generous offer, but the BCCI may well feel the risks outweigh the rewards and De Silva may have been making a promise he is personally unlikely to be able to keep.
Put Sri Lanka down as enthusiastic, rather than likely, in the contender stakes.
Option number two is the UAE, which has the most recent form. And frankly shares a penchant for the type of conspicuous extravagance that the IPL finds attractive.
In her 2020 hour of need, the IPL seemed to be very at home in the biosecure desert bubble and the three centres of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah served up some memorable cricket. With that success in mind, the BCCI might follow the same route for the remaining 31 matches of 2021.
Furthermore, given the current situation, the UAE may also be the venue for the upcoming T20 World Cup. The Indian players will finish their England tour on September 14, after which they can fly to UAE and serve the week’s quarantine and finish the matches.
All things considered, this seems the most practical and proven option.
However, don’t write off two further contenders. The IPL might just look past the minarets and sand dunes of the Dubai to the cobbled streets and home of an entirely different Oasis, our own magnificent Manchester.
A group of English counties have offered to host the rest of the Indian tournament in September. The MCC, Surrey, Warwickshire and Lancashire, have reportedly written to the ECB to extend their invitation to the BCCI in India.
This is by no means as unlikely as it sounds, given that on June 2, Indian Test cricketers begin a marathon tour of the UK, where they will play six Test matches including the marquee World Test Championship final against New Zealand.
After the WTC final against the Kiwis, India will then play the five-match Test series against England, which will complete on September 14. A long time away, but a body of IPL players from India will already be securely ensconced on these shores, many with their families who will have travelled with them. Not to mention the English contingent who have already made their way back from India.
Virat Kohli and co may well need their umbrellas and jumpers though. The average temperature in Manchester in September is 56F and over four inches of rain is likely to be bouncing of the Coronation Street cobbles. Compare that to Dubai’s average temperature of 33C and any rain at all being as rare as (pea) hen’s teeth.
Brr. Expect the desert sun to win the day over the English rain and England to conclude its County Championship undisturbed, with the hardy likes of Darren Stevens and Tim Murtagh seaming and swinging their way through the damp and drizzle, rather than Jasprit Bumrah or Yuzvendrah Chahal.
The fourth option for the much sought – after IPL, may just be Australia.
The BCCI could swap the T20 World Cup’s hosting rights with Cricket Australia, which is set to host the showpiece event next year. If that happens, Australia could also become a viable option to organise the second phase of the IPL as it would help the Indian players get much-needed experience of the venues.
“Cricket Australia certainly won’t mind this exchange if their government allows. And since international players will anyway arrive there for the World Cup, Perth – which is three-and-half-hours ahead of Indian Standard Time – can host Phase-2 to cater to Indian prime-time,” sources said.
“This can happen only if the Australian government changes its mind and if broadcasters are willing to agree,” they added.
Currently though, in an Ashes year, our Guerilla Australian sources are advising that travel to the country will not be straightforward and firm and inflexible entry protocols are likely to be in place.
Whilst by no means an impossible option, Australia seems an outsider, behind the UAE and even the UK for practical purposes.