All Eyes on IPL as Cricket Restarts

10 Jul,2020

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

This Thursday saw the resumption of international cricket, with the start of the England-West Indies Test at Southampton. The match is being played without any spectators allowed into the stadium. But even with that restriction, it’s quite incredible that they could actually get down to playing it. It helps that UK is well past its Covid peak, having managed the month of April far better than most major countries, and that the various countries in the West Indies are not impacted by Covid as such. Seeing the slip fielders standing next to each other without a face mask was disorienting for the first few overs. But as the game got along, it seemed like good old cricket after all. At least for me, good commentary more than made up for the atmosphere deficit because of the absence of spectators.

 

Cricket in the subcontinent is at least a few months away, with “India’s Covid peak” still being an idea in the waiting. The Asia Cup, scheduled in Sri Lanka, was formally postponed this week to 2021. But the rest of the cricketing world seems more ready. New Zealand is holding very well at less than 25 total active cases currently, and Australia is managing fine with what can be called its second peak. But the latter in particular is quite stringent on its travel policy during this pandemic. We will know in the coming few weeks how things unfold around the 2020-21 International cricketing calendar.

 

But all eyes are indeed on the IPL. Not holding the IPL is a worst-case scenario, and BCCI will do all it can to avoid that. A foreign venue, such as UK or New Zealand, seems more practical at this stage than India itself. And the original T20 World Cup window in Oct-Nov may suit the IPL well. It could be the first IPL around the Diwali season!

 

In any other year, the Diwali + IPL combo would have been an absolute money-spinner. But we are not in any other year. The advertiser appetite to fund a league of IPL’s stature will be a big factor. Even if a curtailed version of the league is conducted, with say 50-60% of the usual number of games, the corresponding drop in inventory will still not be enough to compensate for the fall in advertising demand. Significantly lower ad rates will be an inevitable outcome of the negotiations involved. Hope BCCI is flexible in understanding Star India’s predicament here. None of the old rules apply, and if BCCI takes an inflexible position, there could be long-term damage.

 

Watching IPL at a neutral venue without spectators may not be the best IPL viewing experience, but if that’s the only way the show can go on, then that’s the way it must. The other option, of course, will be to write off this year altogether, as many already have. But young cricketers will be raring to play, and TV viewership for IPL could see an all-time high this year given the starvation lack of cricket has caused. The temptation to not write off will be quite high.

 

But this is not a year to predict things. It’s a year to take things a month at a time, at best. The coming month or two should tell us if IPL 2020 will be recorded in history as an actual event or a canceled one.

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