India’s top cricketers might be returning to South Africa in a few months time. With India’s Covid-19 curve showing an alarming upswing, the BCCI has put in place a contingency plan of holding the upcoming Indian Premier League on foreign shores. In case 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’s Season 15 to South Africa, which had earlier hosted the T20 league in 2009. The BCCI is also exploring the Sri Lanka option as it puts on paper its pandemic-time Plan B.
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. Around the time the postponement of the Ranji Trophy tournament was announced, the talk about the possible shifting of IPL was initiated. Later when the domestic under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy had to be stopped mid-way because of several positive cases, the specifics started taking shape.
Unlike the past two years when BCCI’s flagship event with international flavour was fully and partially held in UAE because of the pandemic situation in the country, the Indian board was keen to look beyond the Gulf venue this time. “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. Over the years, players have often complained of IPL games finishing well past midnight. The erratic match timings, along with constant air travel, has denied the players time for rest and recovery. .
The other factor which made the Indian board look at South Africa was the success of the ongoing series and also the India A tour before that. Feedback from the Test team has played a key role in the BCCI’s decision. Though the team have been in a bio-bubble since the start of the tour last month, the sprawling hotels and resorts that the hosts, South Africa cricket board, have earmarked for the tour party have come as a welcome relief for players. Since the restart of sports in pandemic time, there have been concerns about the mental health of players as they have remained isolated for long spells. With the IPL consisting of 10 teams this time, Season 15 is to be the longest ever.
“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.
Before the Indian team landed in South Africa last month, there were doubts around the tour. That was the time South Africa had identified the new Covid-19 variant Omicron. There was global panic as Gauteng province, which was to host the first two Tests, had seen a spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisation. The Netherland team had cut short the tour and the India A series was under cloud of uncertainty. These events compelled the SA board and BCCI to rejig the tour dates and delay the start of the Test series. However, 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.