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IPL residual season may catch virtual flight to Emirates

Over 4,000 fans to dot the stadium at the India-New Zealand final test in UK

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Mumbai: Sporting fans will return to spectator stands after more than a year of a forced hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as India faces off with New Zealand in the World Test Cricket finals.

Just over 4000 fans will cheer the two teams, for the first time, after 16 months of cricket sans spectators becoming the new normal in the world of cricket since the pandemic struck. Star Sports will bring live actions of the world test championship finals for Indian audiences. 

As per (new normal) the standard protocols and practising Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, the Indian team is currently observing the harsh conditions of quarantine in Mumbai, before they depart for the UK on 2 June.

Once there, they will stay ensconced within the imaginary bubble and hope it doesn’t burst before their Kiwi test challenge to decide top honours of the sport, at the Southampton stadium grounds on 18 June.

The inclusion of spectators at the stadium will enthuse the cricketers, since most International matches over the last 16 months played out to empty stadiums over fears of infection of the contagion. 

The United Kingdom sets an example

The decision to include spectators in the test championship final was made as the Covid-19 situation in the United Kingdom has markedly improved. Recently, 1,500 spectators watched the match between Hampshire and Leicestershire at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, the same venue that will host the test championship final, come 18 June.

According to a senior official formerly attached with the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), “India was always preparing to play in a foreign venue in respect of the T20 World Cup that has been rescheduled to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). India was supposed to host the tournament but the decision to shift the venue to the UAE was taken last year after the pandemic situation broke out over reluctance by other cricketing nations to visit India even as the pandemic’s footprint grew larger upon us in India. Now, even the remainder of the IPL is likely to be shifted to the UAE,”

In another recent interaction, with Cricbuzz, the Hampshire cricket county club head Rod Bransgrove confirmed that upcoming county games and the world test championship final will be played with a reasonable number of spectators in the gallery. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and the International Cricket Council (ICC) have also given a green signal to permit 4,000 spectators for the much-awaited clash between India and New Zealand. 

After reaching Southampton, the Indian cricket team will undergo quarantine for ten days. However, the team will be allowed to participate in training sessions during this period. 

Will India witness packed cricket galleries in near future?

Even though England has permitted a limited number of spectators in cricket matches in the country, the current scenario in India indicates that the likelihood of people enjoying matches from galleries is still unlikely. The second wave of Covid-19 is expected to be followed by a third wave of the same that has the potential to wreak havoc in India. 

The BCCI was compelled to temporarily suspend the remainder of the 2021 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) after some players tested positive for Coronavirus infection. Even though the tournament played out with all stakeholders abiding by safety protocols and viewer galleries bereft of spectators, the bio-bubble was still invaded by the virus. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, while suspending the tournament revealed that the cricket board would incur a loss of Rs 2,500 crores if the 2021edition of IPL was not completed. 

India was similarly expected to host the ICC T20 Men's cricket world cup in October that will most likely now shift to the UAE. As the current wave of the pandemic in India is showing no signs of slowing down, it appears likely that this tournament will also be outsourced to a neutral venue such as the UAE.

Both the ICC and BCCI have thought of a backup plan if a third wave hits India. Last month, ICC had revealed that Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates were being considered as alternatives if the pandemic situation in India worsened. 

Dhiraj Malhotra of BCCI had also recently confirmed that the UAE would be used as a contingency if the pandemic in India continues to get worse. 

The recent developments strongly indicate that the future of cricket in India will be directly dependent on the pandemic situation, and it is highly unlikely that matches in the country will be played out to packed galleries, or even moderately populated stadiums until the pandemic curve flattens. 

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