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IPL 2020 – Will it happen this year?

On its original schedule, the IPL was supposed to be rapidly approaching its climax now with some major signings announced for 2020.

Instead, the tournament still remains indefinitely suspended and the longer COVID-19 measures go on, the more the question is raised as to whether it will go ahead at all.

The showpiece of all the franchise T20 leagues – the biggest and best by many measures, and certainly the most lucrative and most popular – its absence from the cricket calendar will be keenly felt.

As a result, many options are being explored to get the Indian Premier League 2020 on in some format once cricket returns. So, what are the options?

The show must go on

First and foremost, the BCCI have confirmed they are keen to get the tournament on – cancellation is the very last resort given the amount of money and stakeholders involved.

There have been warnings about a ‘domino effect’, with the cancellation of the tournament likely to trigger problems not just at the highest level but also impact players, officials, partners and grassroots operators.

Unfortunately for organisers, while the IPL is normally guaranteed a free slot in the calendar to ensure maximum player availability, they are now likely to have to fit around a packed schedule.

India currently have the Asia Cup, T20 World Cup and bilateral series already on the schedule, so the opportunities to run the tournament are limited. A July start is one option slated, as well as the option of running it later in the winter.

Of course, cancellations to some of those series and tournaments could ease the fixture congestion, but then the IPL is just as at risk of being forced to scrap this year’s tournament too.

Behind closed doors

With broadcasting rights and international sponsorships among the key partnerships, however, the tournament could still be run before full lockdown has been lifted.

India has some of the strictest coronavirus measures in place, with lockdown now extended to the middle of May, although some restrictions are being relaxed.

As a result, the option could be there to run the tournament behind closed doors – probably at neutral venues given restrictions still in place on travel.

The tournament without its passionate fans will undoubtedly be less of a spectacle, but cricket of any sort has been missed sorely not just in cricket-mad India but around the globe.

Indeed, former India opener Gautam Gambhir believes there could be ‘nothing better’ than the IPL to lift public spirits.

No overseas players

Restrictions on international travel is one of the biggest prohibiting factors in running the IPL to its maximum potential.

Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell, Chris Morris, Sheldon Cottrell and Eoin Morgan were among the big-money signings at this year’s IPL auction.

All could miss out, however, as the IPL considers the possibility of running the tournament without its overseas stars. As COVID-19 took hold worldwide and the pandemic was declared, the Indian government had already suspended all existing visas.

Some teams would naturally be more affected than others, and Chennai Super Kings’ list of Indian veterans would be of huge benefit to them.

Defending champions Mumbai Indians, with Rohit Sharma, the Pandyas and Jasprit Bumrah among others, and Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore could also benefit.

On the other hand, teams like Rajasthan Royals – so dependent on their overseas core of Steve Smith, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes – would be badly depleted.

Nevertheless, it could be a huge boon for Indian players and spectator interest – with a lack of high-profile cricket to compete with at the moment – could still be high.

Arguably, it may prove a long-term benefit for the BCCI and the Indian national team as an opportunity to make new local heroes.

Move abroad

Another option on the table is to move the tournament overseas, with Sri Lanka stepping in when the tournament was indefinitely suspended to offer to host it.

President Shammi Silva told Reuters he expects the island to be free of the pandemic before India and offered to host the 2020 IPL.

It would be radical but not unprecedented – the 2009 tournament was moved to South Africa due to India’s general election and the 2014 tournament started in the UAE.

Given the likelihood of the tournament being behind closed doors in India anyway, it is an option that may still be given serious consideration.

Whatever decision is made, however, Gautam Gambhir’s comments ring true. If the BCCI can get the tournament on, it could be a timely boost for the cricket-starved, morale-beaten public.