Cricket, like almost everything else in the world, has been thrown into chaos because of the coronavirus pandemic. No full member cricket nation – a status afforded to the top 12 teams in the world – has played since mid-March.
There is hope of a resumption to international cricket in the coming months but the calendar has been savaged.
The two biggest tournaments scheduled this year – the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the T20 World Cup – appear on a collision course. But it’s a fight the Indian behemoth will almost surely win. The lucrative IPL is cricket’s showpiece tournament annually and reportedly estimated to generate more than $11 billion for the Indian economy.
“IPL remains the single biggest event for the global cricket economy. With a contribution of around 1/3 of global cricket revenues annually, the importance of IPL cricket’s global economy cannot be over-stressed,” Sundar Raman, a former chief operating officer of the IPL, told the Times of India.
“If IPL was to be considered a separate cricket body and revenues from IPL were to be removed from the Indian cricket board’s revenues, IPL would emerge as the biggest revenue generator for global cricket.”
According to Raman, the IPL is worth 70% more in revenue than the T20 World Cup. Unsurprisingly, the heavy-hitting Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) want to salvage its money spinner. The IPL was supposed to be in its final stages with the tournament scheduled for March 29-May 24.
Like many other countries, India went into lockdown in April forcing the “indefinite postponement” of the IPL. No one knows how long international cricket will continue to be shut down but the BCCI’s only viable option for holding the 13th edition of the IPL is in September-October.
Indian media have reported that the BCCI is eyeing the tournament to be staged from September 25-November 1 with the UAE, which co-hosted the IPL in 2014 due to the Indian general election, looming as a fall-back option if India is still under national restrictions due to the coronavirus.
“We are engaging with various agencies,” BCCI chief executive Rahul Johri said. “After the current phase of lockdown ends, there is the monsoon. Cricketing activities can start only after monsoon. By then, hopefully things will improve.”
The preferred window clashes with the T20 World Cup held in Australia from October 18-November 15. The International Cricket Council last month said it was still preparing for Twenty20’s showpiece tournament to go ahead but it is increasingly looking headed for a postponement.
Under mounting pressure amid fears of an IPL cancellation combined with strict Australian government measures to curb the disease’s spread, including tough travel restrictions unlikely to ease by the tournament’s starting date, the T20 World Cup is looking fanciful.
The BCCI’s, cricket’s richest and most influential governing body, priority is with its home grown event and it often gets what it wants. Horse trading with T20 World Cup hosts Australia might be required.
The BCCI, unsurprisingly, has publicly distanced itself from any supposed pressuring on a T20 World Cup postponement.
“If the Australian government announces that the tournament will happen and Cricket Australia is confident that they can handle it, it will be their call,” BCCI treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal told Reuters.
National governing bodies will suffer a significant financial hit if the T20 World Cup scheduled for October-November in Australia is cancelled. Smaller nations especially will feel the pinch. But hosts Australia might be incentivized for the T20 World Cup to be postponed 12 months.
Professional sport is on the cusp of re-emerging in Australia albeit without crowds – most likely for the rest of the year. A T20 World Cup played behind closed doors is obviously not particularly appealing aesthetically but also has major financial implications for Australia, whose governing body would make substantially more money from ticket sales.
An under pressure Cricket Australia (CA), which has suffered widespread criticism for standing down up to 200 staff on 80% pay cuts until at least July, is desperate for the Indian tour of Australia slated for December and January to go ahead.
The four-Test series against India is reportedly worth AU $300 million ($195 million) and a cancellation would undoubtedly be a catastrophe for CA whose grim financial situation has been exposed amid the tumult of recent months.
CA might just be able to squeeze another Test match out of India to sweeten the deal and ensure the IPL’s desired window is open.
There is still much to play out with the situation unstable. Nothing is fluid in these volatile times but – assuming cricket returns this year – the mighty IPL is almost certain to be staged.
The financial stakes are simply too great.