Cricket authorities in Australia and New Zealand rushed to evacuate star players from Covid-hit India on Wednesday, after the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) was abandoned. Cricket Australia said plans were under way to fly 38 players and staff, including superstars Steve Smith, David Warner, and Pat Cummins to the relative safety of the Maldives or Sri Lanka in the next “two to three days.” The IPL, the world’s richest Twenty20 cricket tournament, was suspended on Tuesday and players were sent home, as India battles a massive surge in coronavirus cases.
But Australian cricketers found themselves in limbo as they are banned from returning Down Under until at least May 15 after Canberra slammed shut its borders and threatened anyone entering from India with jail time.
The group is likely to be chartered back to Australia once the ban has been lifted, with the help of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). “The BCCI is working through arrangements to repatriate all the players, the support staff, and umpires commentators as quickly and safely as possible,” said Nick Hockley, Cricket Australia’s interim CEO.
They are “working to move the entire cohort out of India… the BCCI has been working on a range of options. That’s now narrowed down to the Maldives and Sri Lanka,” Hockley added. But the group departing India will not include 79-Test veteran Michael Hussey, the Chennai Super Kings batting coach, who tested positive for coronavirus and will remain in isolation.
“His symptoms are relatively mild,” said Todd Greenberg, the Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive. “So he’s okay, he’s in for a stint of isolation in his hotel room for at least 10 days, but he’s in pretty good spirits,” Greenberg added.
Warner posted a drawing of his family made by one of his daughters on Instagram, with a heart-covered caption reading: “Please Daddy come home straight away. We miss you a lot and love you.” It gathered almost 850,000 ‘likes’ in a few hours.
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Two more cricketers tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, Delhi Capitals (DC) leg-spinner Amit Mishra and SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha. Many of New Zealand’s top players are trying to travel to the United Kingdom where they are due to play a Test series against England next month before contesting the World Test Championship (WTC) against India. New Zealand Cricket said it was trying to organise a charter for Test players Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Mitchell Santner, as well as three players signed to English county sides.
Britain is currently only allowing its own citizens to travel home from India but a New Zealand Cricket spokesman said “we’re confident of getting border exemptions.” He added another charter flight was possible to transport players, support staff and TV commentators home to New Zealand.
India, which has reported more than 20 million infections so far, with more than 220,000 deaths, is due to host the Twenty20 World Cup from October. The cash-rich IPL, taking place in biosecure “bubble” conditions, attracts many of the world’s top cricketers, including players from Australia, England and South Africa.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) said that they were in contact with their players and support staff, working to bring them home. The IPL started in early April, with the decision to go ahead in the face of a deepening health crisis prompting criticism from some observers, while others defended it as a welcome distraction. “It has been unedifying at times watching this tournament when people are dying just up the road,” said former England captain Nasser Hussain in the Daily Mail.
“The mistake was made in having the tournament in India in the first place… Six months ago they held an IPL in the United Arab Emirates and it went brilliantly. Covid rates were low and no bubbles were compromised. They could have returned there,” Hussain concluded.