IPL 2020: Hoping the bubble doesn’t burst

While one cannot step out of the hotel rooms during the mandatory quarantine period, movement inside the bubble is also restricted and strictly monitored – and that, many feel, is actually a test of patience.

A bio-bubble can be a lonely place. It’s an environment that is meant to keep the individuals — both players and other stakeholders — safe from the coronavirus. But then, it has its own set of challenges.

While one cannot step out of the hotel rooms during the mandatory quarantine period, movement inside the bubble is also restricted and strictly monitored – and that, many feel, is actually a test of patience.

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As one of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise officials joked: “It’s more like going inside the Bigg Boss house, where somebody is constantly watching you...” According to the 33-page Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) handed to all the eight franchises, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has divided the bio-bubble into four broad categories: hotels, training sessions, match days and transportation. The British firm Restrata, which created the bubble for England’s series against the West Indies and Pakistan, has been hired to set up the whole bubble, and it has come up with a detailed plan to further divide the zones keeping in mind the movement of the team members, match officials, cricket operations team, ground staff, broadcast teams, hotel and security staff.

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“There will be designated areas for all, and they need to follow the protocol all the time – be it at team hotels or during training,” said a BCCI official who is in Dubai to supervise the project.

While cricket has resumed in England in a completely secure environment, the challenges are different for the BCCI. As far as the IPL is concerned, 600-plus people are involved in the entire process and it is not easy to keep a tab on everyone. Also, the fact that the eight teams are staying in different hotels — across Dubai and Abu Dhabi — requires a lot of coordination to ensure that there are no breaches.

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In case anyone breaches the bubble, he has to undergo a mandatory quarantine and clear further tests to rejoin the camp. The BCCI’s medical team and the official testing agency, VPS Healthcare, plan to conduct 20,000 tests during the tournament to make sure that things go smoothly.

The players who are inside the bio-bubble need to wear a special Bluetooth wristband, which will set off an alarm if they breach the 2m distance rule. The players need to wear the band throughout and can only take it off when they hit the bed. Even the family members of the players who have accompanied them to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will have to wear the bands. However, there have been teething troubles.

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At the end of August, 13 members of the Chennai Super Kings franchise tested positive and the team’s vice-captain Suresh Raina flew back to India stating that he was feeling uncomfortable inside the bubble. A few others also went on record to claim that it is “very boring” to stay put in a heavily monitored environment.

“It is challenging for sure. But all of us have realised that this is the way forward. If we have to get the show running. We will have to come together and follow the protocols,” said one franchise owner who is currently in the Emirates.

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The matches will be played in three venues — Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah — and travel plans need to be foolproof. And keeping the protocols in mind, the players need to maintain social distancing inside the team bus.

“This is something new for all of us. We may not get everything exactly right in this bubble and (with) the new way of doing things. It’s about learning on the go and one of the main things is that it is a long tournament,” Sunrisers Hyderabad head coach Trevor Bayliss told Sportstar.

“It will be a long time. It’s just as much about being in form and physically fit. It will be important to keep the boys mentally fit as well. That means not necessarily practising everyday. It will be a case of having a rest period as well to keep the boys nice and fresh,” the seasoned coach, who helped England win the World Cup last year, said.

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And most franchises are adopting a similar strategy. Keeping all the social-distancing protocols in mind, they have come up with fancy game rooms inside the hotels where players can bond and also cool their heels. “It is definitely a challenge to keep the players motivated for nearly three months. But they are professionals and they know how to deal with things,” Delhi Capitals chief executive officer Dhiraj Malhotra said.

In the times of new normal, most sporting disciplines have slowly resumed action in bio-secured environments, and as the Indian cricket board hosts its major event of the year, it hopes the bubble doesn’t burst!