By Yajurvindra Singh
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has come out with guidelines as to how cricket will operate at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. This is essential as the safety of the players and the people involved in cricket needs to be foremost protected.
The world is reeling under the spread of this unexpected virus attack and the uncertainty of being able to deal has put a threat to all. “The show must go on” and therefore cricket as a sport has taken the plunge to get back on track.
England, by creating a bio-bubble and isolating teams from the outside world, so as to greatly minimise the risk of getting an infection, proved that it could be done successfully. This has been a huge positive where cricket is concerned as countries around the world now have a template to follow.
Indian cricket finally breathed a sigh of relief as the popular and financially lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) can be played finally. This they plan to do in the UAE as India is still not ready to hold a major tournament given the current circumstances.
The IPL is a very important tournament in world cricket, especially for India. The glamour and glitter that it brings along with the cricket uncertainties is a script that is unique as every match creates an excitement similar to what one feels when reading a murder mystery. This is what makes T20, the shortest official format of the game, so absorbing.
The BCCI will have a major challenge in ensuring that the 53-day tournament goes through without any blemish. The only way this will be possible is for all the participants to take the responsibility on themselves and follow the rules and regulations to the tee. A single error could burst the bubble and jeopardise the whole tournament.
With eight participating teams, the controls to ensure that nothing goes awry will be a humongous task for each franchise. The IPL has been one event which has always brought out the BCCI with flying colours. One hopes and prays that this edition showcases that India has the capabilities of hosting a major sporting event successfully even in such a difficult time.
BCCI has also in the meanwhile issued very elaborate guidelines for domestic cricket. Each Indian cricket association has been told to follow them. One is a bit skeptical as to how effectively it will be implemented. A bio-secure bubble to create around India is a huge challenge. This requires players, support staff as well as all the people involved, to be ensconced in a secured space for two months or more.
The BCCI has announced that they will be only playing two tournaments this season — the Ranji Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy. A domestic cricketer is paid on a match-fee basis and hence many of them will be affected financially. With the reduction in the number of matches, their annual income will be reduced quite drastically. One hopes that the BCCI and the state associations will take this into consideration and compensate them suitably.
However, the U-19 and junior tournaments will be played as usual. This is rather unusual as creating a safe environment for them, especially as they do not stay in five-star comfort like their seniors, would be an enormous task.
The tournament, that one cannot understand as to why it is being omitted this season, is the prestigious Irani Trophy. This is a match between the winner of the Ranji Trophy and the Rest of India. The match is very important for players from the winning Ranji Trophy side, in this case Saurashtra, because a good performance in this encounter could catapult one into the Indian team. The Rest of India side also has players vying for a place in the Indian side. Depriving the Saurashtra players and the rest is definitely unfair.
The Irani Trophy should have been the first match of the season. Most of the players would already have been a part of the IPL whereas the players missing could have been put into a safe bubble at a stipulated venue. This would have been an ideal game for selecting players for the difficult tour that India will be embarking on Down Under against Australia at the end of the year.
The recent guidelines issued by the BCCI also has one more controversial regulation which needs to be enforced. It states that no coaching or support staff can be 60 years or over. Many of the teams have former cricketers as coaches, mentors and advisors who are above the age stipulated. Some of them have done extremely well for their respective state sides and for them to lose their job just because of the age factor is simply not acceptable.
The age barrier is one area that has been the bone of contention even in the Lodha committee proposed recommendations that were approved by the Supreme Court and inserted into the BCCI Constitution. The BCCI also has put their own age criteria as regards selectors, match referees, fitness coaches and even administrative staff.
It is rather unfortunate to enforce the age barrier of 60 or 70 years on people who are fit and capable of bringing experience and knowledge and are a valuable asset.
The BCCI cricket administrators like J. Dalmia, N. Srinivasan and Sharad Pawar and many others have shown the way Indian cricket can flourish off the field even after they have passed their golden age. Arun Lal for Bengal and Karsan Ghavri for Saurashtra, both former cricketers and above the magic age limit, have shown what they can do with their bunch of cricketers on the field. All these stalwarts have proven that it is how one thinks, feels and behaves that is important and that age as one says “is only a number”.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)