On 4th May, the COVID-related suspension of the Indian Premier League left the tournament and all those involved in a degree of uncertainty as to its’ future. The remaining 31 games that still have to be played have a combined revenue of £200m; a loss that few governing bodies would willingly accept.
As a result, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have been desperate to find a window in an already packed calendar to conclude the lucrative tournament and have approached the ECB in an attempt to move the conclusion of India’s tour of England to an earlier date in the Summer. In response, the governing body for cricket in this country held firm, choosing to protect the dates of 10-14 September for the conclusion of the 5-test series. With the first three days of the contest already sold out, moving the series finale of the test series presented a massive logistical issue that the ECB did not want to disrupt the number 1 and three ranked teams in world cricket.
In light of this response, the conclusion of the shortened format T20 competition will now take place in the United Arab Emirates during the three weeks in between the conclusion of India’s tour and before the T20 World Cup.
All of this makes for a highly condensed cricketing calendar for the elite players involved in both formats of the game however, with rest at a premium and significant financial gain on the cards, for many, the decision to compete will be a foregone conclusion.
The Indian Premier League
With the constantly fluctuating global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of elite sport has been held very much in the balance. Throughout March and April, the second wave of the disease saw infection rates soar throughout India to an all-time global record of 414,000 new cases confirmed on May 6th. Despite this, it took until the 4th May for organisers of the tournament to finally suspend play, after many stars of the game had voiced concerns over the safety of those competing.
The IPL is a highly prestigious tournament that sees franchises bid for the very best players from around the world who declare themselves available for the competition. These elite overseas players combine with the best players throughout India to create some of the most exciting T20 cricket in the world.
Since its’ inaugural debut in 2008, the IPL has become the most-attended cricket league in the world, with 8 professional teams competing on behalf of 8 different cities across the country. In terms of value, in 2019, the IPL was valued at £6,780 million before an inevitable decrease in 2020 due to global pandemic.
Some of the biggest names in world cricket have represented the globally renowned franchises throughout the years with many returning to the competition every year. As well as an opportunity to hone their skills in the shortened format, the IPL provides a huge financial incentive for players.
All-time great MS Dhoni earned a salary of over £13 million in the last 13 seasons of competition whilst South African AB De Villiers earned a salary of just under £9 million over the same period of time. With the tournament usually being completed in just under two months, many players from around the world view the tournament as a chance to break from their usual training routine to concentrate specifically on the shortened format that has very much become an integral component of the sport as an entity.
Despite the lucrative incentives, the IPL is not the first choice for all elite players. For the third year in succession, Australia’s Mitchell Starc opted against registering himself for the auction, quoting a desire to play as much domestic cricket as he could in light of the recent pandemic and in preparation for the world cup later this year.
The 2021 IPL
Whilst questions were raised as to the suitability of the tournament to continue given the current global climate, the Indian Premier League provides a release not just for the fans of the franchises but for many of the players taking part as well. An astonishing total of 400 billion viewing minutes throughout 2020’s edition of the tournament saw a 12.4% increase over the ICC World Cup a year prior. In addition, the rise in total time spent meant that the average match impression stood at 31.57 million people, almost half of the UK population.
As a result, the tournament battled through increasing pressure and scrutiny to continue to operate behind closed doors as the governing body worked tirelessly to find a safe way to operate. Since the postponement at the start of May, attention has turned to the restructuring of the finals whilst repatriating those overseas players and coaches who found themselves in a foreign country, some of which had no immediate route back home.
As attention within the IPL family now turns to the end of the British summer, a brief window between September and October will see the conclusion of the tournament through the remaining 31 games. Naturally, there will be a number of double-headers, giving fans from around the world an intense window of elite T20 cricket akin to the World Cup which is due to follow shortly after with the provisional start date of the same month that the IPL concludes.
Given the delicate nature of the continually changing dynamic of public health within the region, the T20 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted in India, is now under significant threat. The prospect of a postponement, which will be finalised in July, has now become a viable option for the BCCI following a postponement of last years’ version of the event. In reality, the World Cup is likely to follow the path of the IPL in relocating to the UAE. The successful running of the 2020 IPL in the region, under difficult circumstances, has very much thrust the area into the limelight as the leading option for hosting major sporting events.
Until then, however, the on-going situation in India will be closely monitored to determine the best course of action for the biggest competition in the world for the shortest format of the game.