The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 came to a sudden halt as a few players and supporting staff tested positive for the Covid-19 virus forcing the BCCI to suspend the most coveted league in the world. It is not the first time that a major T20 world league has been postponed mid-way due to the bio-bubble being breached by the virus.
The Pakistan Super League (PSL) was called off in early March this year as several players and other members tested positive. The PSL is scheduled to resume on the 1st of June in Pakistan even as a number of franchises have requested the Pakistan Board to hold the matches in the UAE. There is too much riding on the IPL for it to be cancelled completely especially after half the tournament has already been played out.
A window will be created later in the year to finish the prestigious league. But given India’s hectic international commitments, it will be a difficult proposition to find a four-week period - the time needed to finish the remainder of the matches.
Here is a look at India’s international schedule for the calendar year 2021:
June 18-22: Final (vs New Zealand) of World Test Championship in Southampton in England
Early July: Three Match T20I Series in Sri Lanka
July-September: India in England (5 Tests)
Early October: South Africa in India (Three ODIs and Three T20Is)
Mid October - Mid November: ICC World T20
November-December: New Zealand in India (Two Tests and Three T20Is)
December: India in South Africa (Three Tests and Three T20Is)
The only plausible one-month window to complete IPL 2021 seems to be in the month of September after India returns from England. The tour gets over on the 14th of September and the BCCI can squeeze in the league in a compressed three week period ending by the beginning of the second week in October. It may require to postpone/cancel the ODI matches against South Africa or pack the ODI and T20I series in a tight schedule just before the commencement of the World T20.
There are two big issues for the BCCI in conducting the tournament in September in India. Firstly, it is the safety of the players as there is another (third) wave of the pandemic which is expected to hit the country later in the year. No one is quite sure what the timeline would be and this uncertainty can create havoc in pre-scheduling an event which has already been rescheduled. However, there is an option to host the remainder of the tournament in the UAE which has largely controlled the Covid-19 pandemic. The Emirates hosted the 2020 edition of the IPL successfully in a secured bio-bubble.
The other big problem though would be the availability of the overseas players in September. Most of the big names would be on national duty in preparation for the World T20 next month. Will the BCCI and the franchises agree to host the remainder of the IPL without some of the star foreign players? That will completely change the dynamics, team structure and composition of the various participating teams and give an unfair advantage/disadvantage as the case might be to a few franchises.
There is another possible window just after the World T20 ends in November. This might be a better option as most of the overseas players would already be in India for the mega event and can stay back to represent their various franchises to complete the IPL. It may require a tweak in India’s home series against New Zealand and the BCCI may need to request and cooperate with the various boards to adjust the schedule of their local players - but this is a possibility.
Holding the remainder of the IPL in November would also give the Indian government enough time to deal with the Covid-19 situation in the country and hopefully by then India would have witnessed the worst of the pandemic, vaccinated a majority of its population and be in a better position to host and complete the league.