In a normal world, middle of May is synonymous with the IPL.
Desperate for wins, eager to move up the points table, jostling for positions, ensuring a top-four finish to seal a berth in the play-offs – that’s been the normal ‘goals’ of competing teams at this time of the calendar during the first 12 editions of the most popular T20 franchise-based league.
And going by the schedule of this year’s IPL, the double round-robin league phase would have concluded this weekend with a mouth-watering clash between Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai Indians (MI) at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday.
If only wishes were horses!
Cut to reality — the coronavirus-infected world, which has turned everything upside down and altered all normals.
The 13th edition of the most-watched Indian sporting event has proved to be unlucky thus far. But not all hopes are lost, yet.
More than two months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it as a global pandemic, COVID-19 is still causing a lot of misery. However, the world is learning to live with the virus and gradually opening up its economies and allied activities after adopting suitable health guidelines.
Sports, too, has started taking baby steps to stand on its feet again. The Bundesliga resumed on Saturday in Germany and the Italian league will be back in action next month. South Korea has done even better, welcoming back professional soccer, golf and baseball.
But resumption of sports is tagged with a common rider: no fans at venues.
Cricket administrators and cricketers, too, will have to accept this New Normal in the post-coronavirus era.
Kohli acknowledges it’s a real possibility and at the same time wonders how that will feel.
“Things will still go on, but I doubt one will feel that magic happening inside because of the atmosphere that was created. We will play sports how it is supposed to be played, but those magical moments will be difficult to come by,” the Team India captain said.
The biggest challenge for the Indian cricket board (BCCI) is to find a suitable alternative ‘window’ for IPL-13.
Given that there’s a long way to go before coronavirus cases reach a peak in India, it’s quite unlikely sports will be high on the ‘resumption list’ of government’s priorities. Especially team sports.
The earliest one can visualize cricket being possible in India is August-September, which is the tail-end of monsoon season.
A truncated tournament, with the eight teams facing each other just once before heading to the play-offs, is an option. Players of all nations, however, may not be available for IPL if bilateral World Test Championship tours go ahead in tune with the schedule during that period.
IPL’s best chance is closely linked with the fate of ICC World T20 championship, scheduled in Australia from October 15 to November 18 this year. The Australian Cricket Board is yet to take a call on the tournament, unsure whether to go ahead with an empty stadiums arrangement.
According to insiders, the BCCI is keeping its fingers crossed, hoping to pounce on an October-November window for IPL if the World T20 gets cancelled.
Another possibility is to stage the IPL off-shore. The Sri Lanka and UAE cricket boards have both offered to host the tournament if India is not in a position to.
Cancellation of this year’s IPL will badly hurt the franchises, BCCI, official broadcasters and cricketers. The BCCI has said it stands to lose revenue to the tune of Rs 4000 crore, while the players will miss out on hefty cheques.
So it goes without saying that the stakeholders will settle for an IPL in any form, anywhere. The only ‘condition’ put forth so far is Chennai Super Kings reportedly saying that an IPL without foreign players is not acceptable.
The BCCI will gladly sacrifice gate receipts, in the event of empty stands, as long as the moolah comes in from tournament broadcasters.
The fans won’t complain either, and will lap up the action on television, as millions do every year.