After a six-month delay and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, IPL is all set to commence on 19th September, 2020 in the United Arab Emirates. Three venues, viz. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah are ready to host around 60 matches over two months. When the pandemic hit the cricket-playing nations, i.e. in March, entire cricket was shut down. Fears started looming over the conduction of the world's richest T20 league. Ultimately it had to be postponed indefinitely.
The IPL is the most loved T20 league in the world. Every match day, millions of people all over the world stick to their TV sets to support their favourite team. The whole international cricketing action is put on hold so that players could participate in the cash-rich league. It means a lot for cricket amidst the pandemic, for the players as well as the fans. Due to the pandemic and lockdown, the mental health of everyone was below normal. Players were locked in respective cities and were denied access for practice. Similarly, fans were deprived of cricket action. The T20 World Cup, which was to be held in Australia in October was also cancelled. Only one question was trending globally; When is the IPL? Moreover, the BCCI was estimated to lose around Rs 4,000 crore, had the IPL not happened. Thus, the topmost priority of the BCCI was the smooth conduct of IPL, be it from a financial point of view or the players' and fans' point of view. The first hurdle BCCI had to cross was the venue as India was on the verge of becoming the worst-hit nation due to COVID-19. There was no question of allowing the fans in the stadiums so IPL had to be played behind closed doors. According to an official, each IPL franchise is going to lose at least Rs 15-20 crore if the tournament is played behind closed doors.
The BCCI and IPL governing body started to search a way in which the IPL can be conducted. Firstly, they sorted the venue in which Sri Lanka and the UAE emerged to be the hot favourites. The BCCI, who was looking for the September-November window, cancelled out Sri Lanka due to the rainy season in the period. Thus, the BCCI decided to go with the UAE as there was no doubt of rain affecting the IPL. Also, there was no need for air travel as the three stadiums were very close to each other and could be reached by bus. Moreover, the UAE had the experience of hosting IPL in 2014, where the first half was held because of elections in India. The Emirates Cricket Board, which is an associate member of ICC needed an economic boost as no cricket matches were played. Furthermore, owing to an ICC Academy, the UAE provided good infrastructure along with well-maintained grounds. When the UAE was finalized as the host nation, Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE's minister of tolerance and co-existence and chairman of the Emirates Cricket Board quoted, "The magnitude of being in a position to bring the IPL to the vast cricket-loving global community, during current events which have greatly impacted our daily lives, is one we take with extreme importance." Besides, the former Indian ambassador to the UAE said, "Hosting the IPL matches in UAE is a win-win for both countries. BCCI gets to host matches and UAE gets an economic boost as well as branding as a venue for hosting such events."
Post the venue selection, the next task was to ensure the safety of players as well as match officials and broadcasters. To keep COVID-19 at bay, a bio bubble was created with the help of the UK based company Restrata who had the experience as they created the bio-bubble in England, against the WI, PAK, and AUS.
The new normal and added responsibilities for the support staff
Cricket in the post-COVID-19 era witnessed numerous changes. For instance, in the IPL, every team is isolated from each other. Each team is staying at a different hotel to avoid contact among players. Moreover, every five days, all IPL players have to undergo a COVID-19 test. The coaches, too, have new responsibilities. They have been assigned the critical task of keeping a tab on the players' health. Also, a key responsibility of a coach will be to ask his players "if they are feeling ill before each training session and report all cases." If a player shows any symptoms, or reports, of illness, he will be sent back to the hotel from the training ground. A special COVID-19 helpline has also been set up. The other backroom staff, like the physiotherapist, have been given proper instructions. For instance, the physio will have to make sure he does not touch the eyes, nose, or mouth of a player. He also has to make sure that there isn't more than one player in the room during treatment. A shower has been advised for players before each physiotherapy or massage session. The team management has also marked all face masks with a player's name to avoid confusion.
With all these precautionary measures, the IPL is all set to begin after four days. Numerous commentators have been assigned throughout the world. The BCCI and the IPL governing body are determined to host the tournament at any cost. The IPL will be broadcasted in almost 120 countries. Post the final ODI between England & Australia tomorrow, the entire focus will shift to the middle-east for the IPL. From an economic as well as from the players' point of view, this two months long tournament will surely boost cricket.
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