Still no IPL 2020 schedule as Covid-19 protocols in Abu Dhabi raise concerns

With just over three weeks to go for the start of IPL 2020, there is still no clarity on the schedule of the 60-match tournament, to be played across the UAE. The delay in announcing the fixtures list – which the franchises had been told to expect by August 20 – stems from Covid-19-related travel restrictions between the emirates.

There has been a spike in infection cases in the UAE, and mandatory checks have been ramped up at the border, making travel into Abu Dhabi more time-consuming than before. ESPNcricinfo understands that the IPL Governing Council members who are in the UAE have been speaking to officials of the Emirates Cricket Board – headed by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE’s minister of culture, youth and social development – to try and get the matter resolved urgently.

It’s not only that the tournament is likely to be split – the plan is to host 21 of the 56 group-stage games each in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and 14 in Sharjah, with the playoffs in the first two emirates. In addition, Abu Dhabi is the base for two teams, Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, who will have to cross the border several times.

Though officials of the BCCI and IPL Governing Council have so far not commented on this, it seems to be no more than a matter of logistics, of synchronising team travel schedules so they comply with Covid-19-specific border entry regulations. Matt Boucher, the CEO of Abu Dhabi Cricket, believes the border issue, however, should not be too big a problem if everyone concerned follows the protocols put in place by the BCCI (for the event) and of the UAE government.

“At the border, it’s either a DPI test or a PCR test, and it’s purely to protect the population of Abu Dhabi. Many hundreds of people are using the border every day, and it’s certainly not a hassle or an issue,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “It just has to be, of course, tailored into the event schedule with rotational testing. But the teams need to be tested in accordance with the protocols of the event, the UAE government, and the BCCI protocols for the event. And if those are in line with the testing procedures at the border, then the facilitation will take place.”

The way the UAE authorities want it to work is for all team members – players and anyone else travelling into Abu Dhabi – to return negative tests 48 hours before they get to the border. After that, with VIP lanes and police escorts in place, the delay shouldn’t be as much as some people fear, Boucher felt.

“If Sunrisers Hyderabad is staying in Dubai, and playing in Abu Dhabi on a Wednesday, the team rotation for that test needs to take place 48 hours before they travel to Abu Dhabi. And they can then travel seamlessly back to Dubai. It shouldn’t be a sticking point.

“The match schedule and the testing of the players need to be aligned. It’s not an easy task, it needs to be thought out, it needs to be calculated, but the safety of the players and others is the most important thing. It’s not an international border, it’s a safety mechanism.”

Similar logistics will apply for the Abu Dhabi-based teams, Boucher said. “For example, if Mumbai are playing in Dubai on Wednesday, then 48 hours before that match they need to have the PCR test to return from Dubai. That will be facilitated by a VIP lane and Dubai police escorts and Abu Dhabi police escorts. Upon their return to the Abu Dhabi border, the police will already have all the negative test reports, and they will seamlessly come through the border via a VIP lane.”

There have also been murmurs of some teams not being happy about playing games in the afternoon heat, with matches starting at 2pm local time – ten double-headers had tentatively been penciled in by the IPL Governing Council when they announced the decision to shift the tournament to the UAE. Whether that is still a sticking point or not remains to be seen.

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