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Cricket's richest festival and an evolving 'new normal'

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Back in May, a headline in this newspaper trumpeted: 'IPL cancellation could cost Indian cricket half-a-billion dollars'.

With that awful 'truth' established, the question became not whether global cricket's richest tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL), would take place, but how, when, and where, given the rampage of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With COVID-19 cases surging in India, it soon became clear that the IPL — already postponed from March — could not be held there this year.

But where there is will there is always a way.

In time, word came that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would be the venue in biosecure arrangements.

Those arrangements, unprecedented for major sporting competitions, were proved viable during trips to England by cricket teams from West Indies, Pakistan, and Australia in the summer months.

There were no spectators, but cricket watchers around the globe had their fill watching television.

Indeed, a West Indies women's team is now in England in a biosecure 'bubble' and are due to start a T20 tournament against the English next week with television as its window.

Likewise, a range of popular, high-profile professional sport strictly for television — including club and international football as well as tennis — has been on show globally in recent months.

By mid-year a time period had been identified for the IPL with the postponement of the ICC World T20 tournament which had been scheduled for Australia in October/November.

Thereafter, it was all systems go for the eight-team IPL which opens today.

Positive COVID-19 tests for two players of the Chennai team proved to be merely minor bumps and, though a few stars pulled out for 'personal reasons', most of the globe's most sought-after players will take part.

Hundreds of millions of people in populous, cricket-loving India will be watching as the tournament opens taking advantage of that country's evening, prime time, TV slots.

President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Mr Sourav Ganguly, a former Indian captain and highly respected batsman, says the absence of spectators due to COVID-19 may actually help TV viewership.

“They (broadcasters) are actually expecting the highest rating of IPL this season because they believe if (people) don't turn up in the ground, they will be actually watching on their television sets,” said Mr Ganguly.

“There is a positive in everything,” he added.

And with public tolerance for the 'new normal' created by the pandemic apparently on the increase, Mr Ganguly gave the situation a new, unexpected twist. He suggested that, over time, spectators who are “properly tested” could start to return to the IPL before it ends on November 10.

Said he: “Because of the COVID and infection, you don't want people to be too close to each other, but very soon you will see there will be 30 per cent people in the ground with social distancing.”

We will be watching with interest.