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IPL 2020: Come what may, the show must go on

IPL is a commercial behemoth, a multi-crore industry churning out entertainment that can be viewed from the confines of your homes.

Published: 13th September 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th September 2020 07:33 AM   |  A+A-

Indian Premier League, IPL 2020

For representational purposes (Photo | Express Illustration/ Tapas Ranjan)

The BCCI faces innumerable challenges as it gears up to host the country’s national pastime, IPL, in the UAE. Playing in eerie silence and living in a bubble to avoid infections, cricketers face a daunting task to keep themselves motivated and sharp. Venkata Krishna B finds out how the board and franchises have made it possible as the desert blooms, come September 19.

The television commentators might increase their decibel levels. Fireworks is set to go off when Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings walk out for the first match of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on September 19. As the sound of pyros dies in staccato, not a thunderous crowd but an eerie silence of the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium would greet the teams. Some of the game’s best players—Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, David Warner, Rashid Khan, Jasprit Bumrah, Pat Cummins and Ben Stokes—thrive on the theatre of packed houses. But the crowd that drives the adrenaline of these giants to push them beyond the limits of human ability will be missing. Those seas of yellow and blue jerseys, those banners and painted faces won’t be around. The empty stadiums may conjure an image of imperfection but in this world of Covid-19, though surreal, this is like a new normal. 

IPL is a commercial behemoth, a multi-crore industry churning out entertainment that can be viewed from the confines of your homes. It’s a cash cow that helps the BCCI to not just earn but also keep the cricketing ecosystem well-oiled and running. Even in these times of peril and uncertainty, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) fastidiously ensured the hosting of the IPL, even though in a distant land. With chunk of revenue coming from broadcasters (Rs 3,200 crore a year), lack of fans didn’t bother BCCI much.

For a sports body that boasts of a fat bank ba­lance, missing out on one IPL may not mean much. There have been debates on why hold it at all if not in India. There were thr­e­ats of cancellations due to lack of a window in the international calendar. The moment Austr­alia said no to the T20 World Cup because of COVID-19, BCCI got that opportunity. 

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For BCCI, the IPL is more than just money. It’s a system that pumps oxygen into the cricket’s thriving ecosystem. The revenue generated helps BCCI conduct domestic tournaments across all age-groups. Men’s and women’s tournaments combined, the BCCI in 2019-2020 season conducted a record 2,035 matches. The operational costs for these matches, the salary hikes for domestic cricketers and umpires in the recent years have only added to its list of expenses. Throw in the pension scheme of cricketers and the money it shares with the state units for developmental purposes, the financial burden on BCCI only increases. And it needs the IPL to keep its cricketers and its system healthy. 

“People see the IPL only as an entertainment. But there is huge economic value attached to it which feeds many. We conduct so many matches and without the money we earn from IPL, it wouldn’t be possible. Our cricketers are among the best looked after and it has been possible only because of IPL. If IPL doesn’t happen so many players will suffer. So when there is a window, why not?” BCCI treasurer Arun Kumar Dhumal had explained the nuances of hosting the event.

Bubble wrap

The BCCI is trying to do something unusual, and of course, daunting—shift the event to a different land bag and baggage—eight teams, match officials, television crew, commentators, event managers and officials to the UAE using charter flights. It has already flown in players and support staff from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and 22 more will join them from England by September 17. A congregation of around 500 players, support staff and officials crisscrossing three cities will be a logistical challenge. 

Great shows require great entertainers. Enter the players. One of the biggest challenges for the franchises is to keep the players happy and motivated. They have a huge job in hand. Apart from managing their workload and ensuring smooth entry after a lengthy layoff because of the pandemic, the mental aspect of staying in the bio-secure bubble also needs to be addressed. Apart from Mumbai Indians, who allowed players to bring their families, most franchises have said no to family members. Players, who generally step out for a meal or a drink, have to keep themselves confined to their hotel rooms as much as possible. Entering each other’s room is a strict no-no. Frequent Covid-19 tests, expected to reach 20,000, and the need to follow the SOPs could be taxing. 

PlayStation to Ludo, Franchises Find Ways to Keep Players Entertained in Bubble

“It depends how each player and a person is,” says Karun Nair, who will turn out for Kings XI Punjab. “I’m guessing most players are actually happy to be here and part of the tournament and get a chance to play. So if there are certain rules to follow, then so be it. It is the best tournament in the world to be part of, so no complaints from my side. But, yeah without going out, we can do the same thing sitting in our room, which is safe. We won’t get to go out, but we can still create the atmosphere. Also, once you are inside the bubble, maybe you can get to have some get-together. I’m not sure of it though.”
Profits may not match last year, but franchises are doing that extra bit to shield the players from harm, both physical and mental. 

Sample this. The 22 players arriving from the UK will be put through a special corridor with seven teams —except Mumbai Indians, who don’t have any of their players featuring in the series—paying `1 crore for a special flight. Players will leave from their ‘bio-bubble’ hotel to Manchester Airport on a bus that will be disinfected and sanitised. They will not be stopped at the immigration gate and will be allowed to board the flight after going through a contact-less process.

According to franchise officials, the cabin crew and pilots who will take them to Dubai will also be tested and once they land in the Gulf, will head straight to their respective team hotels to start the mandatory six-day quarantine.Keeping players confined to their rooms has its own peril. The franchises have taken care of that too. The players living in the bubble will be allowed to socialise, but by maintaining safe distance.

Teams have put up gaming rooms, where PlayStation, foosball, table tennis, darts, e-gaming centres, basketball, chess boards, carrom boards, card games like Uno, and other board games like monopoly, ludo are set up to kill boredom and keep them in good spirits. “It is important to keep them in the best possible frame of mind. They are taking huge risks and it is our responsibility to take care of them. Though there is not much travel around, it will be exhausting for the players to be in the bubble and to train and play. Which is why it is necessary to keep their minds away. All of them will feel better if they have a company by their side and this IPL should make them bond even more closely,” says a franchise official.

Nair concurs, “KXIP has done a great job of putting us in such a place where there is open space, nice view and a balcony to step out. I was lucky enough to get a room in the ground floor, which had access to the garden. So in those six days, I was training two times a day and doing whatever I could with skipping ropes and stuff. And before you knew it was over. During the day, you play couple of games on PlayStation, watch Netflix and Amazon.”

The budget this year would be less because franchises will get rid of the riff-raff, both on and off the field. Since they are not travelling between too many cities, the travel cost will be manageable, even after using charter flights to reach the UAE.Apart from travelling from hotel to stadiums and between Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai, the players this season will spend more time in hotel than any after-match party lounge or attending commercial engagements. 

“What is better? Six months back we weren’t sure if IPL will happen. Now it is happening. The revenue will reduce, but none of us (franchises) are worried about it,” says a franchise executive. “In our case, all our sponsors have agreed to continue which says volumes about the brand IPL. Even if one looks at other teams, they have most of their sponsors intact. Just one or two have pulled out. Some have asked for rates to be altered, but that is natural given the current situation,” adds the official.

No controversy, please

The last thing the BCCI wants this IPL is controversy that would affect viewership. The desert venue has been chosen because of its proximity and familiarity. The time zone would ensure TV coverage during a convenient time in India. Flying players from India on chartered flights would be easier. 
Considering the resources it has, BCCI has the ability to pull off a successful tournament anywhere in the world. For the BCCI it might be a loss, but they are happy the show is on. “Considering the current situation, this is the best that could have been done in the time that we had in our hands. For everybody, there was very little time to plan. But then, this is for one year,” Dhumal had said.

For 53 days during the course of the tournament, IPL will occupy your evening time. Families will get to watch live sport with India connect again. Twitter timelines will see familiar banter among fans. Instagram users will have new stories to share. Pubs, bars and restaurants wouldn’t have hoped for a better restart. For months, C has been about Covid and coronavirus. But another C is about to enter the present-day lexicon— cricket. 

Disease Control: No Contact, Sharing of Bottles and Equipment

Physical distancing, use of face masks, respiratory etiquette and any other rules necessary to prevent cross-infection will be followed by players and others. After sufficient quarantine and screening, each team will operate within a bubble, with regular health checks on each individual in the team. Players, support staff, match officials, operations teams, commentators, broadcast teams, and ground/hotel/security staff will be tested on a regular basis to reduce the risk of asymptomatic spread of the disease. The match and training venue, hotel and vehicles for transport will operate within the protocols defined for a bio-secure environment. Only those personnel who clear daily temperature checks and medical assessment (Health Passport), and hold a valid accreditation will be granted access to training and matches

First up: Testing

Since landing in the UAE, everyone were subjected to three tests in six days and only after clearing all the tests they have been allowed to enter the bio-secure bubble. From there on there will be two tests every week for the first two weeks of stay. If players are required to visit a hospital for scans, special corridors will be created to avoid contact with any outsiders.

The bubble

The bio-secure environment measures will be in place throughout the IPL season and cover the hotels, training sessions, matches and transportation. Within these domains, different zones will be created to separate the franchise team members, match officials, cricket operations team, broadcast teams, ground staff, hotel staff and security personnel. 

Health Passport

Players, support staff, staff involved in cricket operations, hotels, catering staff, drivers, ground staff, dressing room attendants and match officials have the Health Passport app authorised by BCCI on their phones, in order to complete the daily temperature and symptom monitoring.

Bluetooth tracker

BCCI will provide a tracking device in the form of a wrist band or FOB on the lanyard which must be worn by individuals at all times, including on the hotel premises. In case an individual returns a positive RT-PCR test, the device will help trace those individuals who have been in close contact during the previous 72 hours. Can be removed only during sleep time.

Transportation

Individuals must travel to the venues only in the dedicated vehicles from a fleet of buses and cars accredited by BCCI which will be sanitised regularly. The drivers of all such vehicles will also be tested regularly for Covid-19 and complete the daily temperature and symptoms recording which will be updated in their Health Passports.

The zone is sacrosanct and should not be breached

Zone 1 
Dressing room, Match Official’s room and Field of Play

Zone 2 
Inner Zone: All operational areas within the stadium complex

Zone 3 
Outer Zone: The area outside the stadium complex but within the boundary walls

Match officials

All Match Officials (MO) will follow the same social distancing and testing protocols as followed by the franchise teams. The on-field umpires must not collect sweaters, caps and other miscellaneous objects from the players. Individuals above 60 years age and underlying medical conditions will be excluded.

Players’ meet and greet rule

The team members must avoid any interaction with other guests in the hotel. Must avoid use of common areas used by other hotel guests viz. bars, restaurants, toilets, gyms, swimming pools, etc. All food items ordered from outside the hotel premises will be collected by a designated staff, who will sanitise the container and serve the contents on a clean sanitised plate. Zero-contact housekeeping and in-room service protocols will be followed. Hotel staff will deliver all items outside the room, ring the doorbell and leave. Members should open the door and collect the items a minute after the hotel staff has left. May be allowed to mingle within the team while maintaining social distancing.

Dressing room

There will be more vacant areas at the stadium and hence the dressing rooms may be expanded and do not have to remain within the traditional area. Venue Cricket Operation teams should consider using appropriate areas beyond the normal dressing room. The dressing rooms will be sanitised using a UV-C disinfection device. 

At training sessions

Players will arrive at the training venue dressed in their training kit to ensure time in the dressing room is minimised. Kits will be sanitised at the hotel before sending over to the player’s rooms.

Own water bottle

All players and staff must have their own personal water bottle they drink from, which is easily recognisable as theirs. Marker pens can be used for marking each individual member’s bottle once allotted. Towels, sunscreen and lip balm must not be shared by anyone.

Viewing area

Players and staff should only sit in designated seats, which are widely separated. Substitute fielders, team medical staff must be widely separated. All members must sanitise their hands before and after use of the fridge. The drinks box should have a foot pedal to open the box.

Own microphone,  venue-specific rule for commentators

An exclusive crew will be identified for Abu Dhabi, and they will be based there and perform duties only at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium. Two separate crews will be formed for Dubai International Stadium, Dubai, and Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah and they will be based in Dubai. The crew will perform duties only at their designated stadiums. Each commentator must be allotted a personal microphone for the entire duration of the tournament which must not be shared with other commentators. Each Broadcast crew must be allotted a personal headset and microphone for the entire duration of the tournament. While conducting on-field player interviews, commentators must follow social distancing protocols and maintain a minimum two-metre distance from the players. For on-field interviews, each team must be provided three clip-on mic at the start of the tournament to be exclusively used by players from that team.


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