As the pandemic casts a dark shadow over the tournament, Mumbai Indians will begin their quest to become the first team to win three consecutive Indian Premier League titles in an empty stadium in Chennai on Friday. Their rivals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, have two of the league’s four players who have tested positive in secure team bio-bubbles, and many have spoken out about the pressures of starting a fresh eight-week lockdown. With the virus resurfacing in India, Bangalore’s Devdutt Padikkal and Daniel Sams, Delhi Capitals spinner Axar Patel, and Kolkata Knight Riders’ Nitish Rana have all been isolated.
A total of ten ground staff members at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium have tested positive as well.
For the tournament, which ends on May 30, all eight teams are in strict bio-bubbles.
They involve some of the world’s best cricketers, including England’s Ben Stokes and Australia’s Steve Smith.
Every team has been assigned a bubble integrity manager by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
After India’s series against England, captain Virat Kohli talked about the tension of “bubble life,” saying that players were being “cooked.”
“Scheduling needs to be looked at in the future,” Kohli said, “because playing in ‘bubbles’ for two to three months is going to be extremely difficult in the future.”
Sourav Ganguly, the president of the BCCI, who has been criticised for claiming that Indian players are better at dealing with pandemic stress than international stars, said he expects the chaos to subside once the tournament begins.
“Nothing happens until you’re in a bubble,” he said.
When the IPL was held in the United Arab Emirates last year, cases were also discovered, but “once the tournament began, all was perfect,” Ganguly was quoted in the Indian media as saying.
Kasi Viswanathan, the chief executive of Chennai Super Kings, told AFP he was unconcerned about the tournament, which will be held in six stadiums with no fans.
“The integrity managers are present, and we have no concerns,” Viswanathan said to AFP.
International players, such as England batsman Jonny Bairstow, believe the IPL will be a decent warm-up for the T20 World Cup, which will be held in India in October and November.
Bairstow, who plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad, said, “It would be a wonderful opportunity to play at various grounds that we might theoretically be playing in for the T20 World Cup.”
Chris Morris of South Africa is the most expensive player in tournament history, having been purchased by Rajasthan Royals for $2.25 million.
Morris, who last represented South Africa in an international match in 2019, believes the emphasis on the World Cup will benefit him.
“Other guys will hopefully be focused on the World Cup, which will divert their attention away from the IPL, and we can take advantage of that,” Morris said.
“I’m not concerned about the World Cup; I’m here to do my work, which is to win games and, hopefully, win the IPL trophy.”
In 2008, the IPL overcame various controversies, including corruption, to become the most famous T20 league in the world.
Chennai and the Royals were suspended for two seasons in 2013 after a spot-fixing scandal.