5 players exit as virus cloud looms over IPL

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The exit of five players from the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 has put team performance and sponsorships at risk, casting a cloud over the successful completion of the ongoing tournament series, which began on 9 April. Sports marketing and media experts said the fear of travel bans by foreign countries and strict bio-bubble protocols are taking a toll on players, as India continues to reel under the devastating impact of the second covid-19 wave.

Four international players and one national player have so far exited the 2021 edition of IPL, which is being held at six major Indian cities.

Australian players make up the majority of the exits. Royal Challengers Bangalore’s overseas recruits Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson are the latest to leave the tournament and return home to Australia citing personal reasons, the franchise announced on Monday.

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These follow Rajasthan Royals’ fast bowler Andrew Tye, who was the first Aussie to return home, again citing personal reasons. However, a PTI report quoted the cricketer who spoke to SEN Radio from Doha as stating: “There were a number of reasons (behind his exit), but the main one was with the situation that has started to happen back home in Perth with a lot of cases in home quarantine coming out of India. Now, there’s a community case in Perth, governments are trying to restrict the numbers coming back in, especially Western Australia. The bubble fatigue was also a factor.”

He also claimed that many Australian cricketers are keen to return. Leading Australian cricketers, including David Warner, Steve Smith and Pat Cummins, are part of the ongoing IPL season.

To be sure, getting out of India is becoming tougher, with many countries such as the UK, UAE, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand banning flights from here. Australia has already reduced flights by 30% from India, and there could be more restrictions as cases continue to mount.

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“To my knowledge, a lot of players returning to home countries are not doing it necessarily because of covid situation. There’s a secure bio-bubble ensuring their safety. I believe their decision is highly personal because there’s an upcoming Australia tour of West Indies in June-July before which they wish to see their families,” a senior executive from an IPL team franchise said on condition of anonymity.

Rajasthan Royal’s batting all-rounder Liam Livingstone flew back to England last week, citing “bubble fatigue accumulated over the past year”.

On Sunday, Delhi Capitals off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin also quit, the only player among the five who has officially cited covid-19 as the reason for his withdrawal. “My family and extended family are putting up a fight against #COVID19 and I want to support them during these tough times. I expect to return to play if things go in the right direction,” he wrote on Twitter.

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Franchises, including Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, have come out in support of players choosing to quit the season. Industry estimates show 4,000-5,000 crore is riding on the ongoing edition in terms of advertising and sponsorship money, which can get hit if high-level exits continue.

Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Media, a Mumbai-based marketing and communications agency said big players leaving the team tend to disrupt the balance. If a large number of such players pulls away, then the league will be reduced to a Ranji Trophy match, impacting the viewership and thereby advertising, Goyal said.

“Everyone is taking each day as it comes. Living in a bio-bubble is neither easy nor sustainable. There are still a reasonable number of people inside the stands including team members , administration and sponsors. Not everyone is part of the bio-bubble and adhering to strict rules of masking and social distancing,” he added.

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Ritesh Nath, an independent sports consultant, however, rules out the possibility of IPL being curtailed or cancelled. He believes that it’s an individual decision of players if they wish to keep playing in the current environment of a bio-bubble.

“The stakes are just too high in the tournament to be cancelled. Though IPL teams have a good depth of players, if an elite athlete decides to leave it would impact the performance of the team. Finding a replacement with similar credentials won’t be easy. Having said that, in the longer run, it would be the time when a new player is given a chance who could surprise us through a breakout performance,” he added.

“IPL provides a much-needed distraction for all from the doom and gloom around us,” a Board of Control for Cricket in India official told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

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Reuters contributed to the story.

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