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Interview

Published on: Nov. 3, 2020, 1:26 a.m.
A satisfying effort
  • Brijesh Patel, Chairman, IPL

By Aayaz Memon

Q The decision to shift the IPL offshore was taken late, though it was known as long ago as May-June that the Covid situation in India was not going to permit the tournament at home this year. What was the delay due to?

A A number of factors needed to come together, before we could announce the arrangements for the 2020 IPL season. The nation’s focus in May/June was on dealing with the pandemic and we did not want to make any announcements, until we were confident that we could deliver. We were also observing the Covid situation in other countries. As you know, our first priority has been the health and safety of all the participants.

Q Did the decision to play the IPL hinge on Cricket Australia withdrawing the T20 World Championship? Speculation has it that there was a lot of politics at play, since the ICC was reluctant to cancel the World Championship!

A With Australia’s borders still closed to foreign visitors, I think the ICC’s decision to postpone the T20 World Cup has been proved to be the correct one. With the consequent gap in the cricket calendar, we approached our government for permission to hold the IPL in the UAE. We are thankful to our government for issuing us the NOC and to the Emirates Cricket Board and the UAE government for hosting the matches after the end of the summer – they allowed us to schedule a full IPL season of 60 matches.

Q Setting up a complex league within five to six weeks, which normally takes five to six months of planning, must have taken the mickey out of you guys. What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome?

A As you know, the IPL in its short history, has twice moved at short notice. The IPL and IMG operational teams were not sitting on their hands in the months after the season was postponed in March. The operational blueprint for the league was tweaked to reflect the new post Covid-19 world and a number of contingency plans prepared. The unstinting support of the Emirate Cricket Board and the UAE government has been critical. Also, really incredibly good work was done by the IPL medical team to prescribe the protocols to manage the Covid-19 environment for all those involved in the league – not only the players and match officials, but also the broadcast crew and all of those staff and suppliers who have worked so hard to put the season on. I have also been pleased with the results of the initiatives that our production team and Star’s team have taken to compensate for the lack of crowds at the matches.

Q While England hosted two series at home in a bio-secure bubble, managing eight teams and that many more people would have been a huge problem, considering that it’s not just the IPL’s decision, but also involves eight franchises. How was the bio-secure protocol for this IPL determined, considering there was no template?

A As you rightly observe, there was no precedent for this and, therefore, our operation and medical team followed closely what other sports and events around the world were doing as they started to get their respective sports back up and running – not only the ECB hosting the West Indies and Pakistan tours, but also various other sports in the US – NFL, MLB, NFL, UFC – and the professional bull riding and the football authorities in Germany and the UK. There was a shared interest in passing on knowledge and experience as all of these sports dealt with a common challenge.

Q Were the franchise owners receptive to the problems?

A I must say that the owners were receptive and fully supported our decision to move the IPL to the UAE.

Q What about players? Off and on, one hears of players complaining about being locked up for several weeks in the bio-secure bubble. Have you spoken to any of them to find out what their thoughts are?

A There are few people in the world whose lives are unaffected by the pandemic and it is fair to say that the normal rhythm of an IPL season is for the players to be in hotels for the entire time. That said, the franchises have done a sensational job in creating team rooms and activities for the players at the team hotels. I have spoken to the management of the teams and the feedback is that the players are happy to be back on the field and they understand that this will be the norm in these Covid-19 times.

Q The mental state of players had become a big issue even before the pandemic set in and has been compounded in the long lockdown and the fear of Covid. How is the BCCI handling this? Have you got counsellors in place or some such thing?

A We took an early decision to spread the load of organising the season. The franchises have taken responsibility for their players, subject to the guidelines and procedures laid down by the BCCI medical team. I have been impressed by the care that each franchise has shown to the players.

Q There was a transfer window midway through the tournament, which promised a lot of action, but nothing happened. Why?

A We tweaked the loan regulations as a contingency in the event that a franchise’s squad became unbalanced through player unavailability through injury or illness. Thankfully, the franchises have not needed to use this. I am not aware of any loan discussions but the league has been so competitive with six teams still in the running for three play-off places with six matches of the regular season to go, that I can quite understand why franchises have been unwilling to loan a player to a competitor.

Q You’ve been in the UAE right through the tournament. Do you think the IPL lacked something without spectators at the ground?

A The fans in the stadium are a key part of the IPL and we have been conscious at every game that they have not been able to be there. As mentioned earlier, credit must go to our TV production team and our broadcaster, Star TV, for implementing innovative ideas to compensate for the lack of spectators and the feedback we have received is that the viewers have not felt that the matches are played closed doors.

Q The next tournament comes up in six months. Do you think there is appetite for the IPL so soon, among players and fans?

A Yes, there is enough appetite for the IPL as the ratings have gone up by 20-25 per cent on the 2019 season and the cricket has been fantastic. We had a similar situation in 2016 when we played IPL immediately after the T20 World Cup or some major bilateral series like against Australia in 2017 and the viewership is increasing year on year. The players are also keen to play in the IPL and the next one is still four to five months away.

Q You’ve had a demanding year as chairman, IPL, what with the prolonged suspense over IPL 2020, then shifting the tournament to another country etc, etc. What’s your journey been like?

A I have been involved in the administration of Indian cricket for a long time and it has been an honour this year to have chaired the Governing Council of the IPL – a league that the ICC described as the gold standard of cricket events, a league that is so highly regarded around the world and one which all Indians should be proud of. I’ve had the full support and valuable inputs from the office bearers and the Governing Council in all the decisions. Also, here I must give credit to the IPL team, headed by the experienced CEO, Hemang Amin, for making this year’s IPL a grand success. I can say that it has been satisfying that we have successfully conducted the 2020 IPL.

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