2021 IPL will be ‘tricky to reschedule’, says Michael Atherton after tournament’s postponement

Michael Atherton has said the postponement of the 2021 Indian Premier League was “inevitable” after three franchises returned positive Covid-19 cases in the past few days, while he also believes it will be difficult for the tournament to be rescheduled.

On Tuesday it was announced that the 2021 IPL had been ‘suspended indefinitely’ amid concerns over coronavirus levels in India.

Two players from the Kolkata Knight Riders and two of the Chennai Super Kings backroom team tested positive over the weekend, leading to enforced quarantine and postponed fixtures, while Sunrisers Hyderabad became the third franchise to reportedly return a positive Covid-19 case among their staff hours before the planned start of their game against Mumbai Indians on Tuesday.

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Speaking to Sky Sports News on the tournament’s postponement, Atherton said: “It became inevitable once the Covid cases got inside the franchises’ bubbles – three or four franchises had to go into quarantine or isolation – and, once that happened, the tournament became impossible really.

“Up until that point, they could make an argument that in a pretty horrendous time for India, the IPL was providing a bit of daily respite for people to watch in the evening. That argument held water, just about, but it didn’t once the bubbles were breached.”

The number of new coronavirus infections in India passed 20 million on Tuesday, with 357,229 new cases reported in the latest 24-hour period.

The England and Wales Cricket Board is now in discussions with the BCCI over how to repatriate England’s contingent of 11 IPL players, including limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan.

Before they can leave India, the players will likely need to self-isolate and provide several negative tests. And with India on UK’s ‘red list’, they will also be required to isolate in a government-approved hotel for 10 days upon arrival.

“It is a logistical challenge,” Atherton said. “The IPL not only has a high number of domestic Indian players, but players from all around the world.

“There are around 30 Australian players involved, though one or two have gone back already. There are 11 England players there at the moment. It is going to be difficult to get those players home; the franchises and the IPL have said they’re going to do their best.

“England’s players, once they get here, are going to have to do 10 days in quarantine, but it does mean now that they’ll be back in time now for the start of the international season on June 2, which wasn’t going to be the case beforehand.”

England’s international summer begins with two Test matches against New Zealand, followed by white-ball series’ against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, while India are set to visit for a five-Test tour starting in August. There is then the T20 World Cup in India in October, and an Ashes tour to follow over the winter.

With the 2021 IPL on 30 matches into a scheduled 60, Atherton doesn’t see how the tournament can be completed with the already packed fixture list as it is.

“The IPL is obviously worth a lot of money to the global game – I think it brings in a third of the game’s global revenue – so people will be keen to see it staged, but the logistics are very tricky for the tournament now,” Atherton added.

“I just don’t see where the gap [in the schedule] is. India come to England for five Test matches in the summer – and that ends around mid-September. Then the T20 World Cup, which is supposed to be in India – but who knows, they may have to move that tournament to the UAE – takes place in mid-October.

“There is maybe a gap there, but all countries will already have their pre-T20 World Cup preparations baked in now – England are due to go to Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example – and you’re also asking India’s players, who have spent long, long periods inside these bubbles, and then asking them to spend more time in one, it seems hard to me.”

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