The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League is scheduled to begin in just over a month's time, with an expected start date of April 11. The franchises have completed their squads, collectively dropping 145 crore (£14.5m approx.) on players. Which leaves only one question left to answer: where will the tournament be played?
After CovidD-19 forced the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to reschedule and transport the tournament to the UAE in 2020, it is determined to see it held in India in 2021. This is a plan, however, which has hit a number of stumbling blocks in recent weeks. With the pandemic continuing to cause problems across India, and the globe, organising a sporting event of this scale, with associated bubbles and protections, has proved extremely complex.
This is an issue that the BCCI has appeared to flip-flop on a number of times. Initial expectations were that they would announce their plan for hosting the tournament prior to the auction on February 17. This came and went without any sign of an announcement. To fill the void: speculation. Rumours indicated the plan was to host the group stage of the tournament in Mumbai, before moving to Ahmedabad's Modi-Dome for the play-offs.
Again though, plans are shifting. Worried by the fluid nature of the pandemic, and the potential that the situation in a single city could deteriorate quickly, the current thinking is that the tournament should be played across multiple cities.- a plan which includes also allowing spectators, as has been the case in the India v England Test series.
Speaking anonymously, to the Press Trust of India, a BCCI official commented: "There is still a month left for the IPL to start but obviously some decisions need to be taken. It will be risky to have a single city IPL in Mumbai if there is a steady rise in cases that's happening right now. So cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Kolkata will be ready to host matches. Ahmedabad, in all likelihood, will host the play-off and final match of the IPL."
Another source, speaking to the Hindustan Times, corroborated this, saying: "We are exploring the possibility of conducting the IPL at more venues than originally planned. The intent is to take it to more fans as the situation is moving towards normalcy. The feasibility of the bio-secure bubble and logistics will of course be crucial to determine the venues finally. It is a fluid situation and the health of the participants is our primary concern.
"See, there is still some time left for the league to get underway, but we are more than keen to play the league across a few cities. The worry with hosting it in one city is that the Covid-19 situation is constantly changing. So, if by chance one of the cities picked sees a situation where it gets difficult to host the games, another city can go ahead and logistically it will be easier for the board and the franchises."
These statements are likely to generate excitement among millions of fans across the country, who will be hoping that they will be able to attend IPL matches live in 2021. Balancing that desire with ensuring the safety of attendees, players and officials, will be tough for the BCCI, but they will need to outline their solution soon. The countdown to the tournament is well and truly on.