The Indian Premier League provides international cricket stars with their most lucrative paydays of the year. The annual event in cricket-mad India draws television viewers from around the world and pays top players as much as $2 million for two months’ work.
But the stars who went to India for the games last month during a surge in Covid-19 cases ended up getting more than they bargained for. With the tournament about half over, the league was suspended this week, perhaps permanently, after three players tested positive. A group of Australian stars and other officials is now stranded because of border restrictions, unable to return — at least for the next two weeks — to their country.
About 40 Australian players, commentators and staff members will now head to the Maldives or Sri Lanka for 10 days until restrictions on flights from India to Australia lift on May 15. Once they return home, they will have a further two-week quarantine period.
Though no Australians were in the first group that tested positive on Tuesday, an Australian coach and one of the country’s top former players, Michael Hussey, tested positive on Wednesday. Hussey was reported to be in good health, but he will remain in India in isolation for 10 days.
Players from England and other countries did not face the same restrictions and were in the process of returning home, although some will face quarantine when they arrive in their home countries.
Players were “pretty anxious now and pretty keen to come home,” Heath Mills, the head of the New Zealand players’ union, told reporters. “They are working with their I.P.L. franchises, and some franchises have been good at assisting and others haven’t.”
While the tournament was underway, without fans in the stadiums, the I.P.L. superstars were mostly protected from the worst of India’s Covid-19 surge by staying exclusively in a “bio-bubble” consisting almost exclusively of hotels, buses, locker rooms and playing fields. But the precautions did not ultimately prevent infections inside the bubble.
That the I.P.L. went on at all in such troubling times in India was a contentious point. Many called the decision to hold the competition unsettling, and complained that resources in dire need elsewhere were being diverted for the testing and treatment of players. An ambulance, which no doubt would have had plenty of use elsewhere, sat idly outside each stadium on game days, for example.
The league contended that playing the games was a needed diversion for the country.
Although successful by just about any measure, the I.P.L. has been somewhat star-crossed since its debut in 2008. In 2009, the event was moved to South Africa after India would not guarantee security in the aftermath of an attack on a Sri Lankan team in Pakistan. Last year’s event was held in the United Arab Emirates because of coronavirus-related lockdowns in India.
The league says it is determined to try to finish this season at some point. “I want to make it clear that I.P.L. 2021 has been not canceled,” Rajeev Shukla, the vice president of the Indian cricket board, told Star Sports. He said the suspension was prompted by the concerns of players. “Obviously there is a panic-like situation,” he said, “and if people are scared, we need to look at that aspect and take steps accordingly.”
But that may be difficult, given that the foreign players who are a key part of the league’s appeal are departing. In addition, Indian players have been allowed to leave the bubble after the suspension, meaning any resumption of play will involve logistical complications.
One option is to resume the event in September, when many top players have a break from their other tournaments around the world. The U.A.E. is once again an option.