The dates and venue for IPL 2020 are out – in the UAE from September 19-November 8 (or 10) – but the context of the Covid-19 pandemic raises a lot of logistical questions, especially among the franchises. It’s expected that the upcoming IPL Governing Council meeting on August 2 will finalise many of these details, which will be part of the tournament’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). ESPNcricinfo spoke to a few franchises and came up with the most pressing questions they will be seeking answers to.
Quarantine, testing positive and isolation protocols
One of the key concerns of the franchises ESPNcricinfo spoke to is the rules surrounding quarantine for squads, and the protocol to be followed if one of the squad members tests positive. Given that the onus of keeping squads safe and in their biosecure bubbles is likely to rest with the respective franchises, they want clarity on the steps to follow if someone tests positive during the tournament – will the entire squad have to be tested immediately, will the squad be isolated in the same hotel if other teams are staying there too, will the next match of the said team be cancelled or put on hold till everyone is tested? What if someone tests positive on the day of the match? In short, the impact of a positive test on the player, team and tournament at large.
Franchises would also want to know the protocol if someone breaches the squad bubble, like Jofra Archer did after the first Test against West Indies. Archer’s act did not lead to anything more calamitous but the IPL will not be able to afford such breaches.
Maintaining the bubbles and arranging Covid-19 tests
The Governing Council is likely to finalise how often squad members will have to undergo Covid-19 testing in the UAE, but will the testing be supervised by the BCCI or will it be the sole responsibility of the franchises?
Another big concern for the franchises is around the biosecure bubbles. It’s expected that there will be different bubbles for each squad, match officials, broadcasters, the local authorities and so on. For that, franchises want to know if there will be a cap on their contingent size because some of them are keen to have players’ families travelling with the squads. Whether the Governing Council allows it remains to be seen. Teams are also going to travel between three cities – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – so will the entire bubbles be moved around through the tournament is another question.
One franchise is also concerned about the possibility of tourists and travellers staying in the same hotel as the teams. The duration of the teams’ stay in the UAE is likely to stretch to 80 days if they land there by end of August for pre-IPL camps, and maintaining social distancing of their squads for such a long time will be a key responsibility of the franchises.
Getting to the UAE and arranging hotels
The first step for the franchises is getting to the UAE. Some franchises have informed the Governing Council that they wish to land there by August 20 or 21 to give players at least three weeks to train for the tournament, having not played, or even trained properly, for months.
The responsibility of getting the Indian players together before flying out and then combining them with the overseas players in the UAE will also rest with the franchises, and one of them has already asked its Indian players to self-quarantine at home starting now. The franchises will await further details around this, along with confirmation on whether each team will stay in one city and hotel throughout the IPL, which could be Dubai in many cases given its hotel options, training facilities at the ICC Academy grounds and its geographical location between Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
It is understood that a few franchises have already shortlisted their hotel options – keeping their squad sizes and travelling families in mind – and are awaiting a reply from the Governing Council to make further arrangements. With no in-stadia hotels available like the ones that hosted the recent Tests in England, franchises will finalise their hotel arrangements as soon as the IPL authorities give the go-ahead.
Arranging replacement players
Another big concern surrounds the South Africa players potentially pulling out of the IPL, like they did for the CPL. What will be the rules regarding replacement players, whether it be overseas players pulling out or getting injured during the tournament? In the case of the former, picking replacements from the auction pool could lead to a potential clash among the franchises. For example, Royal Challengers Bangalore have the smallest squad (21) with three South Africans – AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Chris Morris – and the franchise will be desperate to strengthen their squad if these three big names pull out.
Each squad has a limit of eight overseas players. In the case of injuries to these players, will they be allowed to fly in replacements from outside? If yes, what kind of testing and quarantine measures will those players have to undergo to enter already existing bubbles? Or will the squad size and overseas players’ limit be increased before the tournament so that franchises can travel with more options?
What if England, Australia players have national duty?
Another possible issue for franchises to deal with is that the England-Australia ODIs could end up being in the second week of September. If, as believed, the IPL insists on all squads assembling at the same time, and with the IPL opener set for September 19, it could rule the England and Australia players out of the first few matches – like David Warner said this week – or worse.
Arranging for nets and net bowlers
Each franchise always has extra net bowlers at their home grounds in India while the IPL is on. With biosecure bubbles and many other restrictions this time, how will these be arranged for, for such a long tournament in the UAE, for all eight teams? West Indies and England had extra squad players in their bubbles for the recent Test series; will the franchises be allowed to do the same? If yes, do they need to pick net bowlers from a particular pool or can they pick anyone and include them in their bubble after having them tested?
Secondly, with only three venues for eight teams, franchises would want clear and detailed plans on their training schedules as teams won’t be allowed to train simultaneously at the same venue because of social distancing. Since franchises are expected to arrange for their own travel and buses, they will have to chalk out such plans early so that players’ preparation is not compromised with.
Interaction with people from outside the bubble
IPL players will be expected to board buses nearly every day for training and matches, and be in proximity to numerous hotel staff, caterers, security officials etc. What will be done to maximise the squads’ safety, keeping in mind the possibility of players’ families also travelling, the large size of the squads, and the long duration of the tournament? Will the bus drivers and hotel employees also be part of some bubble or does the Governing Council have a workaround for this?
With inputs from Nagraj Gollapudi and Gaurav Sundararaman