AFP/ New Delhi
The Indian Premier League, the world’s richest Twenty20 cricket tournament, was suspended yesterday and its players sent home as India battles a massive surge in coronavirus cases.
The move, which follows growing controversy over the competition, comes a day after two players — Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier — tested positive, forcing a match to be postponed.
The Chennai Super Kings added in a statement yesterday that its bowling coach L. Balaji and a member of the side’s travel support staff tested positive after undergoing tests in India’s capital New Delhi on Sunday.
“The Indian Premier League Governing Council and Board of Control for Cricket in India in an emergency meeting has unanimously decided to postpone (the) IPL 2021 season, with immediate effect,” a statement from organisers said.
“The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL,” it added.
India, which has reported more than 20mn infections so far, with just over 222,000 deaths, is also due to host the Twenty20 World Cup in October and November.
The high-paying IPL, which was taking place in biosecure “bubble” conditions, attracts many of the world’s top cricketers, including players from Australia, England and South Africa.
BCCI Vice-President Rajiv Shukla told AFP that the governing body would “make the arrangements” for the IPL’s international players to leave India.
“About the foreign players, as we have said, we will try and ensure all of them get to their homes,” he said.
Cricket Australia said in a statement that it was in touch with the BCCI to “ensure the safe accommodation and repatriation of Australian players, coaches, match officials and commentators back home”.
The governing body added that it was not seeking exemptions from the Australian government’s move to ban travellers from India from entering the country until at least May 15.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket South Africa added that they were in contact with players and support staff, and working to bring their nationals home.
The IPL has been running since early April, even as India’s healthcare system has been overwhelmed by a vicious second wave of virus cases.
This prompted criticism from some who said it was inappropriate, given the suffering in the country, while others defended it as a welcome distraction.
Eight teams have been playing behind closed doors in six cities including Delhi and Mumbai, both badly hit by the pandemic.
“These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the statement said.
“The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021.”
One unnamed franchise told The Times of India it had approached the BCCI and said: “You can host it after three months, five months, six months. It doesn’t matter. But right now, it needs to stop.”
Broadcaster Star India was also in favour of the suspension, the newspaper added.
Ex-England batsman Kevin Pietersen, who has been commentating on the IPL, tweeted after the announcement that it was “heartbreaking to see a country I love so much suffering”.
“You WILL get through this! You WILL be stronger coming out of this! Your kindness & generosity NEVER goes unnoticed even during this crisis! #IncredibleIndia,” he wrote.
Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle said he hoped the competition would return “stronger when the world is what we knew it to be”.
“I guess it became inevitable in the last couple of days. Look forward to calling the action in happier times,” he tweeted.
Australian players Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson had already left their IPL teams before their country imposed a ban on arrivals from India.
The ECB has also said it was talking with staff and players in India.
Reaction to suspension of IPL due to COVID-19 crisis
RAJEEV SHUKLA, BCCI VICE PRESIDENT: “@BCCI has taken a good decision by suspending IPL for now. It will be decided later on when to resume it or reschedule it keeping in mind the COVID situation. It’s in the interest of players and support staff.”
IPL FRANCHISE ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE: “Royal Challengers Bangalore will work in consultation with BCCI to ensure that everyone has a safe passage back home.” CRICKET
SOUTH AFRICA: “CSA supports the decision to put the health and safety interests of all involved in the tournament first and foremost and has made contact with all of the relevant franchises to ensure the expedited travel of all South African players and support staff back to our shores.
“CSA and the South African Cricketers Association (SACA) are in contact with all players and are assured of their safety and comfort in their respective locations.”
CRICKET AUSTRALIA: “Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association understand the decision of the BCCI to indefinitely postpone the 2021 Indian Premier League for the safety and wellbeing of all participants. “CA and the ACA respect the decision of the Australian Government to pause travel from India until at least May 15 and will not seek exemptions.”
ENGLAND & WALES CRICKET BOARD: “The ECB understands the BCCI’s decision to postpone the competition for the safety and wellbeing of those involved, and thanks the BCCI for its commitment to do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all those taking part in the competition.”
MICHAEL VAUGHAN, FORMER ENGLAND CAPTAIN: “Seems a very sensible decision to postpone the IPL.. Now cases have started to appear inside the bubble they had no other option. Hope everyone stays safe in India and all the overseas players can find a way back to there families.”
DALE STEYN, SOUTH AFRICA FAST BOWLER: “Covid don’t care. It has no favourites. Get well to those sick and hopefully everyone else will get home safe and in good health.”
KEVIN PIETERSEN, FORMER ENGLAND BATSMAN: “India — it’s heartbreaking to see a country I love so much suffering! You WILL get through this! You WILL be stronger coming out of this! Your kindness & generosity NEVER goes unnoticed even during this crisis!”
AZHAR MAHMOOD, FORMER PAKISTAN BOWLING COACH “We are in a worldwide pandemic — faced with several challenges. It’s sad to see another big tournament being affected — however it’s the right decision taken at this point. “It’s important to understand nothing can be water tight and working against a pandemic is challenging itself.”
HARSHA BHOGLE, CRICKET COMMENTATOR: “I guess it became inevitable in the last couple of days. Look forward to calling the action in happier times. The #IPL is a great event and I hope it returns stronger when the world is what we knew it to be.”
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