The Indian think tank has its task cut out in the coming weeks. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
MUMBAI: The chronological sequence of India’s cricket schedule starting March this year first got disturbed when Covid-19 took a toll on the one-day series against South Africa at home, followed by the postponement of the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Going forward, the relentless spread of the virus and the enduring lockdown has further ensured that the remainder of whatever cricket India plays at home and abroad between now and the IPL next year will also undergo its fair share of alteration.
To begin with is the national camp that the BCCI was planning for all centrally contracted cricketers, scheduled to begin mid-July. With lockdown continuing in most parts of the country, flight travels still in disarray and hospitality a major concern, the BCCI has been rendered “helpless” so far, with no choice but to delay plans.
“Please remember, without the central government and respective state government approvals, the BCCI cannot do anything,” say those tracking developments.
The cricketing ecosystem, nevertheless, “expects things to change by the first week of August”, should Covid relent in Bangalore, where the National Cricket Academy (NCA) is located. An initial Plan ‘B’ to host the camp in Dharamsala, Himachal – a venue where the issue surrounding hospitality can be considered considering HPCA’s own infrastructure – is also on hold primarily for reasons pertaining to logistics and travel-related concerns.
“Another thing to note is, if the IPL happens, players will have to report to their franchises 21 days ahead of the tournament. So, the central camp may just be a formality,” add sources.
The rescheduling of the camp, nevertheless, is not the only concern for BCCI. With the likelihood of IPL going ahead this year, in a restricted space without spectators, only for television and with prime-time the objective, the tournament is expected to stretch long enough to eat into the early schedule of India’s tour to Australia.
“The present (interim) schedule for Australia tour was released by Cricket Australia (CA) with the first Test to begin on December 3. Also, to note is a three-match T20 series that was scheduled ahead of the Tests, to be followed by a three-match ODI series. One of those two – either T20s or ODIs – will have to be cancelled. Most likely the T20s because the format was put in place keeping the T20 World Cup in Australia in mind. Now, that’s not happening, and IPL is. The start of the Test series will also be pushed by a week,” say those in the know.
Industry sources expect India to play two warm up matches ahead of the first Test and therefore see the Test series beginning by around December 10. “The president talked about a shortened quarantine. What he may have meant was that players will go through two separate (Corona) tests before leaving for Australia and two tests after landing there and if all are negative, health authorities are indicating that two weeks of lockdown won’t be necessarily mandatory. Teams can start practice,” say sources.
The Indian team will have to return soon after the end of the ODI series in Australia, expected to be completed within a week after the Test matches get over, to be in time for England’s tour of India. The scheduled series between India and England is also set for a change.
“Changes will be made to that schedule too. England are likely to play three Tests in India instead of five, followed by five T20s and five ODIs. That will also help compensate the host broadcaster who lost the India-South Africa series in March due to Covid,” sources add.
The Board is likely to work on a schedule that will once again allow an early start to the IPL next year (around mid-March), to ensure that all matches are played at prime-time and stakeholders get to make the most of what has been lost this year.
While none of this is a certainty yet, those in the know expect most of these factors to fall in place within the next two weeks, once the immediate future of IPL’s 13th edition is decided, following a nod from the central government.
In Video: Covid-19 dictates major changes to India’s 2020-21 cricket schedule