"Please Daddy, come home", Sunrisers Hyderabad's David Warner posted a card made by his young daughter on Tuesday afternoon on his instagram. Soon after, the 2021 edition of the IPL, being played in the middle of the worst wave of the pandemic seen anywhere in the world, was called off.
The BCCI announced in a statement that the league was being "suspended indefinitely" after an emergency meeting of the IPL's governing council.
"The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and other participants involved in organising the IPL," the statement read. "...it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones..."
After 29 matches and 24 days, halfway through the league, the Indian cricket board was left with no other option following six positive Covid-19 cases across four different franchises inside the IPL's bio-bubbles that came to light over Monday and Tuesday.
Though the BCCI has left a door open for alternate dates by not officially cancelling the league, it seems unlikely that the IPL will be able to resume this year even as India battles a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions due to the severe ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
There is talk of completing the IPL before or after the T20 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by India in October-November. But the World Cup itself may have to be moved to the UAE, as per BCCI's emergency plans if it becomes impossible to hold the tournament in India.
"We will take a call on completing the IPL later," IPL Chairman Brijesh Patel said.
Until Monday night, there was a plan on the table for the BCCI to relocate the IPL to a single hub in Mumbai immediately after the completion of Tuesday night's contest between SRH and Mumbai Indians. This plan was a response to two players testing positive in the IPL bubble in Ahmedabad, and two non-playing staff from another franchise testing positive in the bubble in Delhi, which led to the postponement of Monday night's scheduled match.
On Tuesday, this move came under scrutiny in the Bombay High Court which agreed to hear a petition on Thursday that sought postponement or cancellation of any plans to have IPL matches in the city.
The move remained a non-starter, once news of more positive cases from more franchises started to emerge. SRH wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha had tested positive in Delhi. It was learnt that Delhi Capitals' spinner Amit Mishra too was positive in Ahmedabad. The entire Delhi team had been in quarantine from Monday afternoon onwards. These two cases added to the four others from Monday – CSK's bowling coach Laxmipathy Balaji, a transport member from the same team and KKR players Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier.
An IPL player who did not wish to be named said that it was known for four days that Saha was in isolation after showing some symptoms. An SRH official said the positive test for Saha came in only on Tuesday.
Franchises have been blaming other franchises for lack of transparency and for not immediately making test results known. Earlier, KKR had declared Nitish Rana's positive test only after he had completed his isolation period. RCB had issued a statement on Devdutt Padikkal 14 days after his testing positive. Some teams had raised objections over Padikkal being allowed to join RCB's bubble in Chennai without undergoing hotel isolation.
Despite the BCCI deploying four "bubble integrity officers" per team, the gravity of the health emergency outside the bubble continued to cast a shadow over the league's biosecure arrangements. It is suspected that Chakravarthy may have caught the infection while he went to get his scans at Ahmedabad's Apollo hospital, exposing the limitations of the hotel-to-hospital "green corridor" for players.
"Even a minute error like using the washroom at the airport terminal can prove to a costly mistake," said one franchisee official.
IPL IN INDIA A MISTAKE
Many are now questioning the decision to bring the IPL back home after staging it successfully in UAE last year, at three venues with no air travel.
"Chairman Patel had warned of the risks involved of staging IPL in India. He wanted it to be moved to UAE," a BCCI official said on condition of anonymity. Before the IPL, BCCI had allowed crowds of up to 50 per cent of the stadium's capacity for India-England matches in Chennai and Ahmedabad; a decision they had to revoke once cases began to rise in the country.
Another call that board members now say was a mistake was to stage the IPL in six venues in a "cluster-caravan" format. The original idea was to have it in multiple stadiums in Mumbai. But at the start of the IPL, the Covid situation had become grave in Maharashtra.
"The difference between the bio-bubbles was the teams were staying at one hotel from start to finish, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. They were playing matches only at three grounds," former IPL Governing Council member Surinder Khanna said. "Here we shifted the rules and started travelling. Immediately after shifting of venues, the cases have started coming."
"Last year we had the IPL held in the UAE and that was an incredibly well-run tournament," Australian Pat Cummins told Fox Sports. "This year, they tried to push it that little step further and have it over here in multiple cities in India. I'm sure looking back they might have tweaked a few things."
The IPL also came in for severe criticism for carrying on even as the health emergency worsened alarmingly across the country.
"Nobody had forgotten what is happening in the outside world. In Delhi, there was a Covid patient in every neighbourhood. I have family members who are down with Covid," said former India captain Anjum Chopra, who worked on the IPL broadcast. "Whether it is players, commentators, engineers, or camerapersons, we were all professionals who kept our worries aside for those four hours and focused on the job at hand."