IPL – To play on, or draw stumps?

As the brutal second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated, four cricketers — Ravichandran Ashwin, Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson — have cut short their ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) stints. The players have chosen to be with their families during these troubled times. The spotlight now has been turned on a player’s mental frame of mind during trying times. Is it tough for them to focus on the game and stay upbeat.

Multipronged pressure

Sports expert and commentator Sunil Yashkalra feels it is extremely tough on the players to cope with the current scenario. “Today’s players have to deal with hell a lot of things from various stakeholders, like sponsors, franchisees, selectors, fans, managers, media, and of course, family,” Sunil points out.

The players do constantly come under criticism for poor performance, and also sometimes have to face career-threatening injuries, which toughens them mentally. But the kind of apprehensions that surround them could still get them down, he feels. “Franchises need to be in touch constantly with the players and create a very positive atmosphere,” he says.                                                        

 Respect their choice

No matter how tough the players are, and how secured an environment (bio bubble) they are playing in, they obviously feel the heat of the pandemic outside. It’s tough on the players not to discuss the disturbing scenario. Sports analyst and author Ayaz Memon points out that each player has to take his own call independently.

While the IPL as it is being played, is not a super spreader of the virus, he feels players who decide to back out of the tournament to be with their families cannot be held back. Former Indian player Pragyan Ojha also feels the players’ choice whether to stay or leave needs to be respected.

Citing earlier instances of English players like Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott leaving long England tours mid-way due to homesickness, Ojha says that family always comes first. “Players who feel they are missing their families when they are on a long tour do take a break, and we have seen such instances in the past. We can see a player’s physical traits, but we don’t know what he is going through mentally. He has to be in the right frame of mind to play and he needs to be given that space,” asserts Ojha, stating that at times, being a professional is tough.

What’s the right call?

 With players backing out from the IPL, forgoing lucrative deals (those who drop out midway through the tournament have to forego around 60% of their contractual remuneration) and prioritising families, there’s a growing feeling that the glitzy tournament should be called off.

Apart from netizens, former cricketers like Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Tye have questioned the timing of the tournament and wonder how franchises and the government are pumping so much funds into the game during the current health crisis.

Sports consultant and political strategist Aishwarya Anand feels that it’s time the franchises and the BCCI reviewed the decision to continue IPL, given that the majority of sporting events around the world are being cancelled.

“No other governments in the world are encouraging sporting events, and I am still wondering why the BCCI is hell-bent on holding the IPL. Maybe for money? If so then it’s time the government, franchises and BCCI announced aid too to people in this health crisis,” Aishwarya said. She wanted the franchises to take a cue from Pat Cummins, who contributed $50,000 for the PM Cares Fund.

Another viewpoint: IPL is a welcome distraction

Alongside the call to halt the IPL, there is another argument that IPL offers a welcome break from the current dire situation. Votaries of this trend see the tournament as an ‘entertainment choice’ for the people, along the lines of a wedding or an overseas holiday.

Former Australian batting legend and Delhi Capitals franchise Head Coach Ricky Ponting, in a video posted on Delhi Capitals’ Twitter handle, said that IPL can bring relief to the people.

A BCCI official who did not wish to be named comments that IPL acts as a much-needed distraction to the people. Apart from boosting the economy by giving jobs directly, including hospitality and airlines, it also brings down the stress levels, he says. “I find the demand to stall IPL strange; the tourney is infusing so much money into the system. In times like these, where people are constantly receiving news about COVID-19, IPL entertains and gives them relief,” the official says, adding that watching the game is a personal choice.


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