Eight England players arrive home from India's Covid crisis after IPL suspended indefinitely

Nick Hoult
·10-min read
Indian Premier League suspended indefinitely following Covid chaos in India - Faheem Hussain/SPORTZPICS/IPL
Indian Premier League suspended indefinitely following Covid chaos in India - Faheem Hussain/SPORTZPICS/IPL

All of England’s IPL players will have left India by Thursday after securing flights out of the country following the sudden cancellation of the tournament.

Eight - Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, Sam Billings, Moeen Ali, the Curran brothers and Jason Roy - arrived in Britain on Wednesday to begin ten days of hotel quarantine at various locations across London. The remaining three - Dawid Malan, Chris Jordan and Eoin Morgan - are due to leave India tomorrow. Jordan is expected to go to Barbados for a break while Malan will return home to rejoin Yorkshire, once his quarantine period has ended.

The England players should now be available for the first Test against New Zealand on June 2. The white ball players such as Morgan and Jordan have time to fit in a break before beginning preparations for the series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan starting on June 23. Morgan's family are in Australia, his wife is Australian, but he will be unable to join them due to the travel ban on arrivals from India.

Jordan admitted he was not surprised by the suspension of the IPL, which could now be rearranged for the United Arab Emirates at the end of September. “You monitor the situation on a daily basis and everyone has done everything possible to keep the bubbles secure,” he said. “I would say I’ve felt safe the whole time here; they have so many things put in place and precautions being taken. The next step now is getting out safely and I’m sure they’ll see to that as well, but it might take another day or two. Obviously, the last couple of days, some new cases came to the fore, a couple of bubbles were breached, and that kind of thing starts to dominate conversations. It was always going to be difficult to continue and I think in the end the right call was made so people can get home to be with their families and look after loved ones.”

The smooth departure of the English players is in sharp contrast to the Australians trying to get home. A number of players, coaches and commentators are unable to return after its government closed borders to all flights out of India. The IPL was making arrangements for a charter flight to either Sri Lanka or the Maldives, where the Australians can serve their quarantine period before flying home. Australia is due to lift restrictions on flights from India on May 15.

Mike Hussey, the former Australia batsman and batting coach for the Chennai Super Kings, tested positive for Covid and will have to isolate at the team hotel in Chennai for another 10 days. The Board of Control for Cricket in India is facing mounting criticism for hosting the tournament in India instead of the UAE, where it held an IPL last year.

This tournament was seen as a dry run for the Twenty20 World Cup this year. Holding that in India looks unlikely given the breach of the Covid bubble in the IPL. “Last year we had the IPL held over in the UAE and that was an incredibly well-run tournament,” Pat Cummins, the Australian fast bowler, said. “This year, they tried to push it that little step further and have it over here in multiple cities in India. I’m sure looking back they might have tweaked a few things.”

The IPL had been determined to carry on despite India’s public health crisis but multiple outbreaks of coronavirus among the teams over the weekend left the Indian board with no choice. It is now facing a potential $200m loss from broadcasting and sponsorship rights with only 29 of the 60 matches played this season so far.

“I want to make it clear that IPL 2021 has not been cancelled. It has been suspended, it has been postponed, it has been deferred, so it will happen,” said Rajeev Shukla, the BCCI vice-president. “The remaining part of this year's IPL will happen. But in due course, when the Covid situation improves, a decision will be taken about it.”

The postponement at least gives England a full-strength squad to choose from for the Test series against New Zealand, which their IPL players had been expected to miss.

It is understood the IPL could resume in September after India’s tour to England. That would coincide with England’s white ball series in Bangladesh and Pakistan arranged to work on Twenty20 skills in similar conditions to the World Cup in October.

Morgan has indicated he wanted his best possible team available for Twenty20 matches this year leading into the tournament. The England & Wales Cricket Board has freed its players to appear in the IPL, even at the expense of missing the New Zealand Test series. Head coach Chris Silverwood has since been given full control of selection and may want to make a stand this time and insist England must be the priority so close to a global tournament.

The players will receive around half of their IPL salaries for games played so far but will miss out on the rest if they are unable to go back when the tournament is rescheduled, almost certainly to be played in the UAE. A test of their priorities now looms.

It is up to the franchises and the BCCI to make arrangements for the players’ flights home. The BCCI promised it would do “everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage” of all the players.

The players have to undergo 10 days' hard quarantine on arrival in London but should now be free to play in the New Zealand series which starts at Lord’s on June 2. One option considered was to go to a third country such as the Maldives for the 10-day quarantine where they would have faced looser restrictions and been given fitness programmes to follow, but bringing a third country into the equation could have complicated an already difficult situation.

England's 11 players are now all due back by the end of the week, in sharp contrast to 40 Australian players, coaches and commentators who are banned from re-entering their own country and are now expecting to go to the Maldives. “Following this morning's postponement of the Indian Premier League, we are in close contact with our players and staff in India as arrangements are put in place for them to return home safely,” said an ECB spokesman.

The postponement of the IPL does at least give Silverwood, unexpectedly, a full strength squad to choose from for his first series since Ed Smith was made redundant as chief selector. Buttler is the most senior Test player returning home early while Cris Woakes is a first choice in England. Bairstow, Ali and Sam Curran are all returning IPL players who appeared in Test cricket over the winter, although may not feature against New Zealand.

The IPL had faced mounting criticism for continuing blithely while India was ravaged by the covid pandemic. Only a week ago, its acting chief executive, Hemang Amin, wrote to all the players to reassure them about the security of the Covid bubble saying they would leave “no stone unturned” in ensuring their safety and they were playing for the sake of "humanity". The IPL was worth too much money to Indian cricket for it to be cancelled, and other boards were not willing to put pressure on the BCCI.

But by Tuesday morning three franchises had reported outbreaks of Covid in Ahmedabad and Delhi sparking panic among overseas players. An emergency meeting of the IPL’s governing council confirmed its postponement.

"A few players wanted to leave the country. They had spoken to their franchisees and the franchisees also confided with us," Shukla said. "But not many players were willing to leave the country. But keeping that in mind, and obviously, there is a panic-like situation, if people are scared, we have to look at that aspect also and we have to take steps accordingly."

An unnamed BCCI official was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying the postponement will cost the BCCI $200m in lost broadcasting and sponsorship revenue if it is not rescheduled.

What does this mean for the cricket schedule?

This is the worst-case scenario for world cricket with a packed calendar. The IPL will have to finish because of the money at stake. One option is to play at the end of the England-India Test series this summer. India are due to play a three match T20 series against South Africa in October but that could be delayed. It would also be seen as a useful warm-up for the Twenty20 World Cup but again leave England with a fresh choice of putting the IPL or international cricket first.

What does this mean for England?

It gives them a larger squad to choose from for the New Zealand series, with Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes back from the IPL earlier than expected. But they will be worried about plans to shift the IPL to the end of September when they are due in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The two T20s in Pakistan are seen as an important step in cricket returning to the country.

Postponing it to allow players to play in India would be difficult politically. England could take a weakened side but the series was originally scheduled for January this year only to be moved because England could not guarantee a strong team. Boards will have to be practical and adapt to the situation.

Can the IPL be played in India?

It looks likely the IPL will resume in the United Arab Emirates where last year’s tournament took place and this one should have been played. The bigger question for the ICC is the Twenty20 World Cup, which is due to start in India in October. India could be on top of the coronavirus pandemic by then but the UAE is already on standby. Travelling within the UAE is done by road, making the logistics for moving teams in covid bubbles around simpler and it is in a similar time zone to India, vital for the ICC’s broadcast partners.

What will this cost the world game?

The global cricket economy is worth about $2bn and the IPL represents 33 per cent. Star Sports paid $2.55bn for a five year rights deal in 2017 and would have to be repaid pro-rata for any unplayed matches. The players will miss out on full IPL salaries, unless the tournament is rescheduled and they can fulfil their commitments. IPL profits have been estimated at around £215m-£300m in recent seasons. It is four years since BCCI published its accounts when the IPL was worth around £50m in profit, although that was before the new rights deal significantly increased revenue.

What does this mean for the World Test Championship final?

The ICC will now be closely monitoring the situation in India. The players were due to fly to the UK on a chartered plane after the final of the IPL on May 31 and begin 10 days hard quarantine in time for the Test championship final at the Ageas Bowl against New Zealand on June 16. They could now arrive earlier, but the players may feel they need to be at home with family. The players are due to leave the IPL bubble imminently and will have to be retested before flying to England.

Why has this decision been made?

Not for moralistic reasons or because playing cricket during a pandemic was a bad look. On Sunday the BCCI was insisting it is business as usual. It changed when more teams reported positive tests and overseas players became very worried about getting home. Once trust in covid security was lost, the BCCI had a big problem.