CHENNAI: Cricket chiefs have stepped up surveillance of star players ahead of Friday’s (Apr 9) launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) amid a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases.
The world’s richest Twenty20 tournament starts with a gala game between reigning champions Mumbai Indians and Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore in an empty stadium in Chennai.
All eight teams are in strict bio-bubbles, and testing has been increased as case numbers in India have skyrocketed to more than 130,000 a day since players arrived to prepare for the eight-week spectacle.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has appointed bubble integrity managers to police each team.
The games are to be held in six cities, and all players are also being monitored through tracking devices, team officials said.
“We are travelling in chartered planes and have created foolproof bio-security environment, so everything’s under control,” Chennai Super Kings chief executive Kasi Viswanathan told AFP, who added that teams are also getting Bluetooth monitoring devices.
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Four players including Indian spin star Axar Patel (Delhi Capitals) and Australia’s Daniel Sams (Royal Challengers Bangalore) have tested positive for COVID-19.
Others have withdrawn because of pandemic fears.
Josh Hazlewood pulled out of the tournament this month after spending 10 months in a bubble, becoming the third Australian player after Mitchell Marsh and Josh Philippe to withdraw.
Australia fast bowler Jason Behrendorff has joined Chennai Super Kings in place of Hazlewood.
Chennai, led by former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, suffered a number of positive cases before last year’s IPL, which was held in the United Arab Emirates.
Mumbai Indians talent scout and former India wicketkeeper Kiran More is one of the 36 people associated with the IPL including players, support staff, ground staff and broadcast crew to test positive for COVID-19 ahead of the current season.
Bangalore batsman Devdutt Padikkal and Kolkata Knight Riders’ Nitish Rana have joined their teams after recovering from the virus, but Patel and Sams are still in isolation.
Sourav Ganguly, president of the BCCI, has said that he expected the disruption to ease once the tournament starts.
But the BCCI has stopped independent media from covering the games, though it has said the decision will be reviewed after a few days.
The 14th edition of the cash-rich event is being seen as a dry run for India as hosts of the T20 World Cup in October and November.
Ganguly expressed confidence in India hosting “the best-ever ICC T20 World Cup” in a letter to state associations, adding that he hoped “normalcy” will return soon.