The dip in the Covid curve in Mumbai has sparked hopes from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) can be held in the country. It can be limited to 3-4 locations – in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune (if needed) – and played behind closed doors. Ahmedabad could host the play-off games and the final, if the health situation allows.
This was an important distraction from a virtual conversation BCCI had with the 10 IPL franchise owners on Saturday. The backup plan was also discussed, which is to bring the competition to South Africa or the UAE if the health situation in Mumbai deteriorates. As things stand, that remains plan B.
The mega auction ahead of IPL 2022 will be held on February 12-13.
“I am pleased to confirm that the 15th season of the IPL will begin in the last week of March and will run until the end of May. A majority of the team owners expressed a wish that the tournament would be held in India. The BCCI was always eager to organize it in India. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that IPL remains in India,” board secretary Jay Shah said in a statement. “The BCCI has made no concessions to the health and safety of its stakeholders in the past and will work on Plan B at the same time as the Covid-19 situation continues to flow with new variants.”
It is believed that a final visit to the sites will be made before the mega sale. This year’s IPL will be longer, with 74 games following the addition of two new franchises: Lucknow and Ahmedabad.
The plan to host IPL at four locations in the Mumbai-Pune belt was also drafted last year. But the sharp rise in Covid cases during the second wave has contributed to that. Mumbai has three international stadiums – Wankhede and Brabourne are close to each other while DY Patil in Navi Mumbai is closer to Pune.
The Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium in Pune is the fourth possible venue. There are plenty of smaller grounds in Mumbai where the teams can hold camps for the competition. BCCI plans to form two bio-secure hubs, in Mumbai and Pune, with ample five-star accommodation for the teams and officials. Such a plan would not involve air travel, reducing the chances of exposure to Covid.
IPL officials have held talks with officials from the Mumbai Cricket Association and with Sharad Pawar – the former BCCI president is also a key figure on the Maharastra government’s board – about the state’s readiness to set up the league.
Last May, the competition started in India but had to be suspended after Covid infections spread across four team bubbles. The cluster caravan model which involved traveling six sites did not go according to plan and IPL was eventually due to be completed in the UAE later in the year.
The UAE was one of the locations that came up for discussion after being proposed as a backup option by some franchises. However, it has been learned that it is no longer the primary option for BCCI. An IPL official spoke of South Africa as an option at the meeting. Internally, BCCI has discussed South Africa and Sri Lanka as backup options to win friends in International Cricket Council affairs. Besides, both countries falling under favorable broadcast time zones make them viable options. South Africa hosted the second edition of IPL in 2009, when the competition collided with the general election.
While most franchise officials welcome keeping the competition in the country, the fluidity in the pandemic situation as far as the staging nation is concerned will affect their auction schedule.
“It will be difficult to pick a perfect squad without knowing the locations and the nature of the pitches,” said a franchise manager. “Whether we go spin-heavy or tempo-heavy depends on whether we play in India or South Africa.”
Another franchise official was less concerned. “The ideal strategy is to pick your top 25 players who can do well in all circumstances.”