A raging controversy has begun about whether or not the IPL cricket festival should continue when the entire country is in the grip of a severe wave of coronavirus. For about a week now, India has been the world’s most affected country with the highest number of positive cases. The USA, KSA, UAE and countries in Europe have come forward with offers of help.
Every day the number of affected persons is rising. On Sunday it was 3.55 lakh new cases. Thousands have died. Many others have lost their jobs. There are horrific stories of oxygen shortage and suffering patients. Hospitals are full and doctors and nurses are under severe pressure as they struggle to cope with the huge inflow of patients.
Under such circumstances is it right to continue to conduct the IPL which is essentially mass scale entertainment? The Indian society is divided on the issue. One opinion is that the IPL should be scrapped immediately or at least brought to an early end. The opposing viewpoint is that there is no harm in continuing it. The IPL affords people a break from the daily news of tragedy and sorrow.
In Hyderabad one person who belongs to the sports fraternity but wants the IPL to be cancelled at once is T. Shesh Narayan, former Secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association. Speaking to siasat.com, he lashed out at the callous attitude of the organisers and the fans who have no qualms in cheering fours and sixes on the cricket field while their neighbours are struggling to stay alive or have lost their lives.
“Is the IPL more important than human lives? The tournament is a symbol of festivity and money making. Under normal circumstances it may be OK. But now when we are seeing so much suffering and so many deaths? Even players from other countries are appalled that India is going ahead with the event despite the loss of lives,” said Sesh Narayan.
“We can see in front of our eyes that people are dying due to unavailability of oxygen cylinders and adequate medicare. Will the wealth that is being generated in the IPL be utilised to mitigate this suffering? Will any contributions be made towards reducing the impact of the virus? The answer is a big NO. The IPL will continue to rake in money without doing anything for those who are being orphaned. Families are being devastated. But the IPL circus must flow on. Why have we Indians become so uncaring and unconcerned?” Sesh laments.
But there is also the other side of the story which is that amidst all the loss and suffering, cricket can bring a glimmer of hope and cheerfulness and that is what the IPL is providing. One person who holds this opinion is the former captain of Hyderabad’s Ranji trophy team, Kawaljeet Singh. During his career, Kawal played more than 100 matches for Hyderabad and also represented India-A team.
The tall and lanky off spinner with the beautiful bowling action was among the leading wicket takers in the Ranji trophy for several seasons. Kawal was also involved in the IPL himself since he had served as assistant coach of the Deccan Chargers team of Hyderabad. He had worked as assistant to Chief Coach Darren Lehmann of Australia.
“I do not understand why there is this hue and cry against the IPL. It is not doing any harm to anyone. Instead it is bringing some happiness and distraction to people who are under stress during these trying times. Persons who have been hard pressed to complete their daily routines can come back home and see something that will make them forget their woes for a few hours every evening,” says Kawaljeet.
“I think that cricket can soothe and relax you and take your mind to a different subject,” explains Kawal. “Moreover, the matches are played under very strict guidelines. There is a highly sanitised ambience. There is a bio bubble in place under which all the players and teams have to function. So far there has been no breach of this bio bubble. If adequate care is taken, I do not expect that there will be any violation of the bio bubble in future too,” says Kawal.
“The IPL has many benefits. It provides an opportunity to young players to show their talent. Even uncapped players, who have not played for India, get the chance to test themselves against the world’s best players. It is a great way to improve the overall standard in the country. The whole idea is fantastic. It also provides employment and earning for the peripheral staff. So why should the IPL be stopped? I strongly feel that it should go on,” asserts Singh.
So there are well informed and expert opinions on both sides of the divide. But there is no doubt that this year’s IPL is under pressure now. Some players have withdrawn. The latest withdrawals feature two Australian players namely Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa who pulled out quoting “personal reasons”. India’s Ravichandran Ashwin also stated that he will be going out because he wants to provide support to his family members in their fight against the virus.
Clearly the IPL is standing at a crossroad. If the withdrawals become a trend, the matter may snowball into a major crisis. Foreign players may feel that they will be safer in their own countries where the incidents of positive cases are less. Cricket fans are keeping their fingers crossed. The next one week may see important developments.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.