In a surprise to no observers, the stalled Indian Premier League (IPL) – cricket’s richest and highest profile tournament – will be played and plenty of money should be salvaged from the 13th edition originally postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reshuffled T20 showpiece event will be held in the UAE from September 19 and November 8, pending clearance from the Indian government. It had to be moved from India, which has been hard hit by the virus and has the third most cases in the world behind only the U.S. and Brazil.
The UAE, a familiar cricket destination, held the early stages of the IPL in 2014 due to general elections in India. It has almost 60,000 cases of the virus but been able to flatten the curve fueling hope that crowds might be allowed in some form at the IPL.
Although it could be played in a bio-security bubble much like the current England-West Indies series in the U.K. and the NBA.
Franchises are set to lose millions if the tournament is played behind closed doors but gate revenues are believed to be only about 10-15% of total income.
“There are many factors which influence the operations and logistics of hosting what is the world’s most exciting, popular and lucrative tournament,” Emirates Cricket Board secretary general Mubashshir Usmani said.
“This is a massive movement of people and equipment and we now need to bring in the experts to discuss all aspects of UAE hosting the IPL.”
In these scary times, there is some reticence from players venturing to an unknown situation. “The Covid cases are low in the UAE, so it’s a good thing,” said Chennai player Harbhajan Singh. “But we will have to be very careful, not go out to meet anyone and stay put in the given bubble. It would be new and challenging.
“Also, we would be going there one month prior to the tournament which means we will be staying away from our families for a long time. It’s not yet clear whether families will be allowed to travel during the competition.”
The Indian government has the final say but there was never really any doubt that the cricket fraternity was going to clear the decks for the IPL. The tournament was set to start in late March but was derailed due to the virus and there were fears from everyone associated – India’s mighty cricket board, franchises and players – that the windfall from cricket’s money spinner would be lost.
An initial plan to postpone the IPL by a month was canned after a surge of the coronavirus in India promted the government to impose strict lockdowns. Ever since, Indian cricket officials have been plotting to reschedule the IPL – reportedly worth $11 billion to the economy and attracts many of the world’s best players – later in the year but cricket’s congested calendar appeared on the surface to be an obstacle.
Of course, Indian cricket’s heft proved overpowering and nothing was going to stand in its path. The only possible window was from September-November, which meant the T20 World Cup in Australia was a lame duck.
A spike in virus cases in the Australian state of Victoria effectively ended the international tournament’s bid although it was doomed from the time the IPL was postponed. Cricket Australia (CA) didn’t protest knowing T20 World Cup matches with limited or no crowds was going to affect the bottom line and – as is the norm in cricket – there is politicking in the backdrop.
The main carrot for a beleaguered CA – which axed chief executive Kevin Roberts in June amid financial tumult – will be the Indian Test tour of Australia later this year which will generate considerably more revenue than the T20 World Cup.
There might be some horse trading needed between the boards. The T20 World Cup has been postponed for 12 months but it is unknown where it will be played – India are meant to host the 2021 edition and want to retain that because they also host the 50-over World Cup in 2023.
A two-year postponement of T20’s flagship tournament is obviously not ideal for CA but, as compensation, they could ask India for an additional Test match this summer. Traditionally, India has been reluctant to play five Tests in Australia because it seemingly harms their chances of winning Down Under – a graveyard site India finally cracked against a weakened Australia in 2018-19.
The last time a five-Test series was played between the countries was in 1991-92 with Indian tours of Australia usually alternating between matches in Brisbane and Perth – the two venues the visitors generally struggle at the most due to foreign conditions.
Amid these strange times, everything has been thrown around and anything is possible.
But one thing was always for certain – the lucrative Indian Premier League was going to be staged in 2020.