IPL 2021: R Ashwin leads COVID-19 exodus; Zampa, Richardson withdraw too

Ravichandran Ashwin has decided to cut short his Indian Premier League (IPL) season to support his “family and extended family”. Australian medium-pacer Andrew Tye, as well as compatriots, leg-spinner Adam Zampa and seam-bowling all-rounder Kane Richardson, are returning home as well. Earlier, England batsman Liam Livingstone had pulled out citing bubble fatigue. A grim Covid scenario outside has started to penetrate the IPL bubble.

So far, 20 matches have been played in this year’s tournament with 40 games left. After the Mumbai and Chennai legs, the tournament is moving to Delhi and Ahmedabad for the next phase. The final phase of group league fixtures would be played in Bangalore and Kolkata. Amid a raging debate, whether or not the 2021 IPL should continue, Australia and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) fast bowler Pat Cummins has donated $50,000 to the PM Cares Fund.

The first match in Delhi is on Wednesday, between Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad. The city is reeling under an acute oxygen shortage. On Sunday, Delhi recorded 22,933 fresh Covid cases and 350 fatalities. And India and Delhi Capitals off-spinner Ashwin decided to exit the tournament.

“I would be taking a break from this years IPL from tomorrow. 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. Thank you @DelhiCapitals”, Ashwin tweeted after the match against Sunrisers on Sunday.

A few days ago, Ashwin’s wife Prithi had remarked that the virus had reached their doorstep. On Sunday, KKR assistant coach David Hussey told The Age that some of the players were getting “twitchy”. And a franchise official told this paper that a “big chunk” of the off-the-field conversations in the team have been revolving around the situation outside. “There are players and/or support staff in the team whose close relatives have been affected by the virus. It’s not easy,” he said.

Three Australians leave

Close on the heels of Ashwin’s tweet, came an RCB Twitter post, confirming the departure of Zampa and Richardson. “Adam Zampa & Kane Richardson are returning to Australia for personal reasons and will be unavailable for the remainder of #IPL2021. Royal Challengers Bangalore management respects their decision and offers them complete support,” it said.

On Sunday, Rajasthan Royals medium pacer Tye flew from Mumbai to Doha on his way to Sydney. According to Cricket Australia’s official website, this follows the Australian federal government’s decision to “stop almost a third of flights from India due to the surge of coronavirus cases”. India recorded over 3.52 lakh new Covid-19 cases in the 24 hours ending 8 am on Monday.

Many countries, including Australia and UK, have either banned or reduced the number of flights from India. It has made a lot of players anxious about returning home after the IPL. The T20 league now has 14 Australian players including big names like Steve Smith, David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Cummins, as well as Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting.

Cricket Australia is maintaining regular contact with the players and on Monday, CA and the Australian Cricketers’ Association issued a joint statement saying: “Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association remain in regular contact with Australian players, coaches and commentators taking part in the Indian Premier League, which is being conducted under strict biosecurity protocols.

“We will continue to listen to feedback from those on the ground in India and the advice of the Australian Government.

“Our thoughts are with the people of India at this difficult time.”

Angst pierces bubble

This paper understands that players and support staff are not worried about bubble safety, as they feel that they are safe inside. But the situation outside has started to impact the IPL. On Saturday, while speaking to in-house media, Ponting had said: “We right now are probably the safest people in the country being in the bubbles that we are in. Continually I’m asking the boys at breakfast every day how’s everything going on the outside, how’s family…”

Australia and Mumbai Indians pacer Nathan Coulter-Nile dittoed. “I was surprised to see AJ (Tye) go home, and then Zamps (Zampa) and Richo (Richardson), but when you speak to them, you definitely understand where they’re coming from,” Coulter-Nile told, adding: “I spoke to Zamps a little while ago and he made a very compelling argument for going home. But for me, I feel like it’s safer for me to stay in the bubble than try and get home at the moment.”

The general sentiment is that although bubble life is tough, which saw the likes of Livingstone (Royals) and Josh Hazlewood (Chennai Super Kings) opt out of the IPL, staying inside it is much safer in the current situation.

The BCCI is backing its bio-security arrangements and safety measures, including daily tests and bio-bubble enforcers. Also, separate IPL check-in counters have been set up at airports. And there’s a school of thought that the IPL has been a distress-buster for the duration of the matches. “Even with the country being in a situation that it is, I think cricket can still bring a lot of joy to people,” Ponting had said.

Also, during off-the-record conversations with this paper, some IPL stakeholders pointed out that assembly elections are being held in the country, with rallies and public gatherings for political campaigns. On Monday, however, the Madras High Court lambasted the Election Commission of India for its “irresponsible” behaviour.

Cummins donates to fund oxygen supplies

Pat Cummins plies his trade as a pacer for KKR. (File)

Pat Cummins has donated $50,000 to the PM Cares Fund to purchase oxygen supplies for India’s hospitals. In a Twitter post on Monday, the Australia and Kolkata Knight Riders fast bowler wrote: “As players, we are privileged to have a platform that allows us to reach millions of people that we can use for good. With that in mind, I have made a contribution to the ‘PM Cares Fund,’ specifically to purchase oxygen supplies for India’s hospitals.”

Cummins also urged fellow players to come forward, as India is fighting a tough battle against the pandemic. “I encourage my fellow IPL players – and anyone else around the world who has been touched by India’s passion and generosity – to contribute. I will kick it off with $50,000.”

At a time when several Indian cities are facing oxygen shortage, Cummins, Australia’s Test vice-captain, has come forward hoping that his contribution “will make a difference to someone”. He also spoke about being “advised that the Indian Government is of the view that playing the IPL while the population is in lockdown provides a few hours of joy and respite each day at an otherwise difficult time for the country”.

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