With all sponsorship slots booked and ₹4,000 crore at stake, BCCI officials have some nervous days ahead as they attempt to conduct cricket’s biggest money-spinner, the Indian Premier League, safely at home while the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hurtles towards its peak over the coming month. Mumbai and Chennai are the first pit stops in IPL’s cluster caravan model, before heading to Ahmedabad-Delhi and then to Bengaluru-Kolkata. Mumbai, where five of the eight teams are currently living and training in bio-bubbles (the other three are in Chennai), recorded 9,879 new cases on Monday.
Since mid-March, the Covid-19 outbreak has expanded dramatically in India. The current wave of infections is the worst yet, and overall, new cases surpassed the peak recorded in September. The situation is particularly grim in Maharashtra, which has been contributing more than 50% of the caseload and reported more than 10 times the number of cases than the state with the next-highest tally on Monday.
On April 4, the Maharashtra government imposed complete lockdowns over weekends and night curfews on all other days, closing down places of worship, theatres, malls, swimming pools and gyms and disallowing gatherings of more than five people in outdoor spaces.
IPL teams are exempt from some of these rules as they are in bio-bubbles, and the Maharashtra government confirmed that the event will go ahead.
So far, three cricketers, 12 ground staff at Wankhede stadium (two tested positive on Monday), six event managers, and a CSK content team member have tested positive in the IPL ecosystem. None of them were inside the bio-bubbles.
Despite the alarming situation in the city, BCCI is confident that IPL will go ahead without incident. This courage stems from the 12 bio-bubbles that are in place for the tournament. “We have seen from our experience in the UAE last year, once everyone settles down and is in the bubble, things come under control,” BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said. BCCI has no immediate plans to move matches out of Mumbai, even though Lucknow has been set aside as a contingency venue. With five teams training at various grounds in Mumbai, and South African players from the Pakistan series soon to arrive and undergo quarantine, last minute changes can lead to multiple complexities.