Updated: August 4, 2020 11:22:48 am
After a six-month delay, the Indian Premier League (IPL) will begin next month. But it won’t be business as usual. The T20 tournament was originally scheduled to begin on March 29. But the pandemic and consequent lockdown meant the season had to be postponed indefinitely.
On Sunday (August 2), the governing council of the league confirmed that this year’s tournament will be held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah from September 19 to November 10.
Detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are yet to be made public by the cricket board, but the broad guidelines set for the league and the internal protocols prepared by some teams provide a glimpse of what the season could look like.
Hygiene: no touching or sharing equipment, masks at most times
Several rules for players and officials mirror those in force in the football leagues across Europe, and in other sports such as basketball and Formula One that have restarted after the hiatus forced by the pandemic.
According to an SOP prepared by one team, the players have been told to avoid using “handshakes, high-fives, tackling, sparring etc” as part of the training routine.
In a list of do’s and don’ts, the players have been asked to use their own personal equipment, like a towel or a water bottle, and to not share it with anybody.
The players have also been advised to dress for training before they leave their hotel rooms, instead of changing at the ground. In case they use the shower in the changing room post-practice, they will have to ensure their “soaps, towels and other utilities are not shared”.
Wearing a mask is compulsory at all times, except while training.
Social distancing: staggered training schedules, always 2 m apart
The training sessions, too, will look very different. The team’s protocol says that the players will have to maintain “2 m social distancing at all times and all places” during practice.
To make sure that happens, coaches have been advised to stagger training timings to minimise the number of players at nets at a given time. The equipment at the field of play will be handed to players and support staff only by the ground staff, who will wear “adequate protective equipment like masks and gloves”.
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Role of the coach: close watch on the health of players
The coaches have been assigned the critical task of keeping a tab on the players’ health. According to the team’s SOP, one of the key responsibilities of the coach will be to ask his players “if they are feeling ill before each training session and report all cases”.
If a player shows any symptoms, or reports, of illness, he will be sent back to the hotel from the training ground. A special Covid-19 helpline will also be set up.
The other backroom staff, like the physiotherapist, have been given precise instructions. The physio, for instance, will have to make sure he does not touch the eyes, nose or mouth of a player while making sure there isn’t more than one player in the room during treatment.
A shower has been advised for players before each physiotherapy or massage session.
The team management is also likely to mark all face masks with a player’s name to avoid interchanging.
At the hotel: open doors, no touching doorknobs, AC at 24-30 degrees
Each team is likely to stay at a different hotel in order to avoid coming in contact with others, while also ensuring discretion, given the strict protocols that have been set.
The players have been told not to socialise with their teammates and other staff before or after training. In common areas, like a meeting room, it has been advised that all doors and windows be kept open at all times.
The idea behind keeping the doors open in common areas is to avoid touching doorknobs. Windows will have to be kept open to provide natural ventilation. If at all an air-conditioner is used, it will have to be operated between “24-30 degrees centigrade with humidity levels maintained between 40-70 per cent”, according to a team’s protocol.
Strength of the squad: One player will have to left behind
A key decision for a lot of teams before they depart for the UAE will be to decide which player to leave out.
The franchises are allowed a maximum of 25 players in their squad, with the minimum number set at 18. But this season, the teams have been told to name not more than 24 players in their squad.
That means teams like Rajasthan Royals or Kings XI Punjab – who have 25 players on their roster – will have to make a big selection call even before they get on the plane to the Gulf. In case a player is infected, a team will be allowed to replace him.
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Duration: At 53 days, a longer-than-usual season
Another striking aspect of this season is its longer-than-usual duration. The usual window for the IPL is 49 days. This season will instead last 53 days.
One of the reasons for this is the larger number of evening matches. The match timings have also been brought forward this year. While the norm previously was 4.30 pm start for afternoon matches and 8 pm for evening games, the 10 afternoon ties this season will start an hour earlier at 3.30 pm, while night games will begin at 7.30 pm.
While the fewer afternoon matches are because of the weather conditions in the Gulf, the earlier start times have been decided keeping in mind the broadcasters’ interest.
The BCCI had an 8 pm start to boost its ticket sales. However, with the matches now being held in the UAE, the timings have been advanced by half an hour for the broadcasters to make the most of the evening prime time.
Spectators on the ground: Stands will likely by kept empty
While the season will most likely be played without spectators, the Emirates Cricket Board has said it is exploring the option of filling the stands by up to 30-50 per cent.
The UAE has around 6,000 active cases at the moment, and the ECB secretary Mubashshir Usmani has said they are hopeful of allowing some fans into the stadium.
“We will definitely want our people to experience this prestigious event but it is totally the government’s decision. For most events here, the number ranges from 30 to 50 per cent capacity, we are looking at a similar number. We are hopeful of getting our government’s approval on that,” he was quoted as saying by the PTI last week.
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