Ever since former India Test batsman, Brijesh Patel, took over as the chairman of the Indian Premier League in October 2019, he had to handle the Covid crisis. First, the IPL had to be suspended in early 2020 as the pandemic was in its initial stages and the country went into lockdown. Later, it was moved to the UAE with Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi being the hosts in September-November, 2020.
The rescheduled IPL 2020 went off smoothly in the UAE without anyone testing positive once the tournament began. Though, Chennai Super Kings’ Ruturaj Gaikwad, Deepak Chahar, and some of the team’s supporters tested positive well before the tournament started.
However, having created a bio-bubble in the UAE, the IPL organisers were confident of conducting the 2021 edition in India, though they did not expect the second wave of the pandemic to be so severe. Hence, Patel and Co. had to take the decision of suspending IPL 2021 indefinitely on Tuesday.
In this exclusive chat with news18.com from his home in Bengaluru on Tuesday, the 68-year-old Patel, who played in 21 Tests between 1974 and 1977 and has been into cricket administration for more than two decades, talks about the tough call to suspend IPL and the way forward.
How tough was it to take the decision to indefinitely postpone?
It’s always a tough decision to suspend a tournament like the IPL. But, four teams were involved and some players included. One player in Delhi Capitals, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, and one support staff from Chennai Super Kings tested positive. It was not possible to reschedule the matches with four teams involved. Looking at the overall situation also in India, what we thought best was to suspend it and have the matches later.
When are you looking at conducting them?
The remaining 31 matches will be completed whenever we can. So, matches will resume from where we left this year. We have to look at a window, before the ICC T20 World Cup or after the World Cup (October-November 2021).
What were the options you considered before deciding on the suspension?
Just to reschedule some of the matches. If two teams were involved (testing positive), it was okay, possible to reschedule matches. But, with four teams involved, and we were not sure if there wouldn’t be further cases. Just for the safety of everyone – the players, the support staff, the commentators, all the stakeholders – it was decided that it was better to suspend IPL.
How much pressure was on the BCCI to suspend IPL? There were calls from all corners saying how could IPL be held when people were dying and suffering in the country?
There was no pressure on BCCI to suspend IPL. The public opinion was such that those watching IPL and asking them what about it, everyone was saying ‘it was very good for us. The whole day, 24×7 we are only watching all Covid-related news and developments. At least for these three-four hours, there is some entertainment through IPL. Anyway, you have asked us to stay at home. At least these three-four hours, people get their minds diverted. Also, the main important thing is that we are not super spreaders. It is not like we were having melas and rallies. IPL is not a super spreader of the virus.
Everyone thinks bio-bubble is safe. Some say they feel safer in the bubble than even at home. But, how did Varun Chakravarthy, Sandeep Warrier (both KKR), L Balaji (CSK), Wriddhiman Saha (SRH) or Amit Mishra (DC) get it?
I don’t know. Earlier, during Covid-I, it was said that if you don’t maintain social distance or not wear a mask, the virus would spread. If you maintained social distancing, that was ok. But now, Covid-II is spreading through the air. We don’t know how these boys have got it. Otherwise, the bubble is pretty good and safe. We will look into it as to how they got it.
How tough was it for BCCI to create a bio-bubble in India?
It is not that we have not done it. We did it in Dubai successfully late last year. One thing in Dubai was that we did not have to travel by air. It was by road only between Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Here, we had to travel to other centres by air.
Was there a breach in bio-bubble protocols with Chakravarthy going to the hospital for a scan? Should he not have been isolated after it? What exactly happened?
He went for a scan. We don’t know if he got it there. Many of the scan centres are spreaders. We will look into what he did, where he got it.
What was the mind-set of the players under the circumstances?
Players were also concerned. If someone gets Covid, they also get worried, don’t they? Till then, they were playing well.
Was there pressure on the players, especially the big names, to stay when some others like Andrew Tye and Adam Zampa left for home?
The players were focussed. You have been seeing the matches. The Australian government will open flights from India.
What steps are being taken to ensure smooth return of all the players?
We will see what needs to be done. Whatever help is required from the BCCI, we will extend.
What happens to those who have tested positive? They cannot be sent home immediately, right?
Let’s see what it is. Each franchise has got its own rules.
How do you look at the whole scenario?
The situation is such that you never know what is in store in these circumstances. We did not expect Covid-II to spread so fast. You are also sitting at home and trying to be safe, right?