The BCCI is keeping a keen eye on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis fueled by the new variant of virus found in South Africa, Omicron. India reported more than 2 lakh cases in the last 24 hours, which led to questions being raised over the hosting of the upcoming IPL 2022 in the country.
Though experts have predicted that the current wave of COVID pandemic will peak in February and lessen by the end of March, the BCCI is exploring multiple options of holding the cash-rich T20 league in the country instead.
One of the options is to hold the entire league in Maharashtra, which has four international-level stadiums in Wankhede, CCI, DY Patil, and MCA stadium in Pune.
However, if the virus surge doesn’t dip by April when the newly expanded 10-team event is expected to kick-off, the Indian board is inclined to move the IPL 2022 season to South Africa, which hosted the 2009 edition of the tournament successfully.
Sri Lanka has been seen as the plan B option by BCCI, in case South Africa doesn’t work out.
It is learnt that in wake of the rising Covid count and increasing positivity rate, the BCCI secretary Jay Shah’s office was forced to redraw BCCI’s 2021 schedule. The board had to postpone domestic tournaments like Ranji Trophy, Col. CK Nayudu Trophy, the senior women’s Challenger Trophy, and the U19 Cooch Behar Trophy as well.
Though in pandemic times, BCCI has relied on UAE to host the events, which hosted the entire IPL 2020 and second half of the IPL 2021 in Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi; this time, the board is keen to look beyond the desert nation as an optional venue for the tournament.
“We can’t be dependent on UAE all the time so we decided to explore more options, South Africa’s time difference also works out well for the players,” said a BCCI official.
With India 3 hours and 30 minutes ahead of South Africa, the IPL games, unlike in UAE or India, wouldn’t see last night finishes. In case the broadcasters stick to their preferred 7.30 pm IST prime start, the game’s first ball in South Africa would be bowled at 4 pm.
The other factor which made the Indian board look at South Africa was the success of the ongoing series and also India A tour before that.
Though the team has been in a bio-bubble since the start of the tour last month, the sprawling hotels and resorts that the hosts, the South Africa cricket board, have earmarked for the tour party have come as a welcome relief for players.
There has been a concern for the mental health of players as well in pandemic and bio-bubble times and with a 10-team IPL 2022, means that 74 matches will be played this season.
“The place where the team was staying for the second Test is spread over several acres. There were walking tracks and even a pond on the property and that has made things easier for the players who for the last couple of years or so have been confined to their rooms on several overseas tours,” said an official.
BCCI and CSA had to rejig the schedule of India’s tour of South Africa, postponing the T20I series entirely and only keeping the 3 Tests and 3 ODIs. With the strict implementation of Covid protocol and the dramatic fall in the virus spread, the Test series has gone ahead without any disruption so far.
With fresh Covid-19 data emerging from South Africa pointing to a daily decline in infections, in a matter of months, the perception of South Africa as a sporting destination has changed.
(Indian Express inputs)