NEW DELHI : The Indian Premier League was suspended indefinitely on Tuesday after players or staff at three clubs tested positive for COVID-19 as nationwide infections surged.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India issued a statement saying local authorities and tournament officials took the decision unanimously “to postpone IPL 2021 season, with immediate effect.”
“The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants,” the BCCI said. “These are difficult times, especially in India. 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 first cases involving players inside the IPL’s biosecure bubble forced Monday’s game between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore to be postponed. The count grew on Tuesday when two Chennai Super Kings staffers and a Sunrisers Hyderabad player also returned positive tests.
The IPL staged 29 games without spectators, at least one every night since April 9, despite India’s stretched health system being pushed to the brink by another major wave of the pandemic.
Star players from all over the world compete in the lucrative Twenty20 tournament, which was forced by the pandemic to the United Arab Emirates last year.
The suspension could cause travel problems for players, with countries such as Australia temporarily barring travellers from India. Britain has imposed quarantine on incoming travellers.
A decision this week by the Australian government to suspend all incoming flights from India and threaten big fines or possibly jail for anyone caught trying to beat the system prompted a wave of criticism. Commentator and former test batsman Michael Slater vented on social media, telling Prime Minister Scott Morrison he could have “blood on your hands” for preventing Australian citizens returning in the next weeks.
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia and the players’ union have been trying to work out contingencies to ensure the health and safety of players such as Steve Smith and David Warner, including charter flights to other countries.
Cricket Australia issued a statement saying the national governing body and the union “respect the decision of the Australian Government to pause travel from India until at least May 15 and will not seek exemptions.”
“CA is in direct contact with the BCCI as they work through plans to ensure the safe accommodation and repatriation of Australian players, coaches, match officials and commentators back home.”
The BCCI said it would do “everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021.”
India’s official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million on Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.
On Monday, the IPL postponed the Kolkata-Bangalore game after Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier, who play for Kolkata, became the first players to test positive for COVID-19 inside the IPL bubble.
Last week, Australian players Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson flew home from the IPL amid the surge of cases. Richardson and Zampa were playing for Bangalore, and Tye for Rajasthan Royals.
Two other cricketers — Englishman Liam Livingstone, who was with Rajasthan, and Ravichandran Ashwin, who was with Delhi — also left the IPL. Livingstone cited “bubble fatigue” and Ashwin wanted to be with his family in the crisis.
New Zealand Cricket said it was in contact with its players in the IPL, including captain Kane Richardson, and would continue to liaise with authorities in India and Britain about getting players out. New Zealand begins a tour of England shortly, including a test against India in the world championship final next month.
“The players are in a relatively safe environment and those within affected teams are in isolation,” NZC said. “At this juncture it’s too early to discuss potential options.”
Windows for the IPL to resume are very limited, with India teams busy from June until after the T20 World Cup, which suggests this IPL edition is at high risk of not restarting.
Despite backlash from critics questioning the sense of the eight-team tournament proceeding during a massive wave of coronavirus cases, the IPL went ahead on the basis that teams stayed in biosecure areas at hotels and resorts in the six venues in India.
Delhi Capitals, with former Australia captain Ricky Ponting as coach and India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant as captain, were leading the competition with six wins from eight games when the tournament was suspended.
The postponement of the IPL throws into the doubt the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup set to be staged in India in October and November. The UAE has already been suggested as an alternative host.
The ICC had to cancel the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia because of the pandemic.
Rather than push the schedule back by 12 months, cricket’s international governing body decided to stage the 2021 edition in India and return to Australia for the 2022 tournament.