Up to 30 Australian players, coaches and commentators face a frantic dash home from the IPL as COVID wreaks havoc across India.
The cricket-mad nation is currently in turmoil, registering more than 340,000 new COVID infections in the last 24 hours alone, and 320,000 on average over the last seven days.
The country of 1.3bn people has recorded a total of 16.96m infections and nearly 200,000 coronavirus deaths and is approaching 3,000 deaths a day.
It has prompted Australia to block flights from India until May 15 at the earliest during a national cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
It leaves Australia’s stars with a decision to make on whether they come home or risk the government not extending the ban and staying until the end of the tournament.
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West Australian fast bowler AJ Tye flew home over the weekend while Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson are joining him on abandoning the lucrative competition where the likes of Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins and David Warner all receive more than $2m.
Cricketers are currently not granted special dispensation from border Australian closures.
The trio’s departure has left 14 Australians remaining in India, safely clinging on to their lucrative contracts in their team bubbles, as well as a handful of coaches, such as Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich, and broadcasters, such as Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater.
“It is really important, we are thinking about the extended family, not just us, but we’ve got to be talking about what’s happening outside because it is quite grim,” Ponting said of the ongoing situation.
They are all being tested for the virus three times a day to ensure the competition, which has no fans in stadia and is not being reported on by two major Indian newspapers in protest, can continue to go ahead.
Cricket Australia sent a text message to all players on Monday asking about their general health and travel plans, with batsman Chris Lynn revealing to News Corp that he responded with a plea for CA and the Federal government to sanction the approval of a charter flight to bring all of the Australian players home.
But paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile has revealed he plans to stay with his Mumbai Indians franchise until the end of the tournament. “Everyone’s got their own opinions on it and different situations for them,” Coulter-Nile told cricket.com.au from Delhi.
“I was surprised to see AJ go home, and then Zamps and Richo, but when you speak to them, you definitely understand where they’re coming from.
“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.
“Especially with all the Australian and New Zealand players in the same boat as me at the moment, I feel like something’s got to give for getting home.
“I’m just going to wait and see how that plays out. Worst comes to worst, we’ll have to quarantine in Dubai for a couple of weeks before we can fly home. But I’m sure it will get sorted.”
Former Australian cricketer Simon O’Donnell implored the Australian contingent to come home.
“I love India, I adore it, the people are great, but the vastness of the country and the population that inhibits the country – in a way you can see where the difficulties arise with what’s happening there now,” he said on SEN.
“A pandemic in India with all due respect is a far different pandemic to what you’d experience in Australia.
“From a family point of view, and that comes first, I think all of the Australians should be getting on a plane and coming home.”
O’Donnell said any Australians who chose to remain should not be given priority over fellow citizens.
“There are eight or ten thousand people wanting to get home and get out of an unbelievably difficult situation,” he said.
“How do you take someone off a plane to put someone on it because they’re a cricketer?
“It will create long, difficult and offensive debate. Where we end up here is not 100% sure, we’re learning as we go.”
The ongoing participation of Australia’s IPL stars is likely to raise eyebrows after Cricket Australia made the decision to abandon its test tour of South Africa earlier this year.
Players were not part of that decision but showed no public objection to it either, with the players association supporting the “prudent decision” to pull out as a new variant of COVID emerged and derailed England’s own tour there.
“The Australian players were ready for the contest with South Africa, especially to support South African cricket at this time … but this is the right call given the COVID data coming out of South Africa,” Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive Joe Connellan said at the time.
It prompted a furious reaction from Cricket South Africa who did its best to provide a biosecure environment.
This included acquiring government permission for players to go from the airport tarmac onto a bus, and the allocation of beds in private hospitals if required.
Ultimately, CA determined the risk to its players and staff was “unacceptable” and made the decision to cancel the tour.
Australians playing in the IPL are not under Cricket Australia’s care once cleared to participate in the tournament.
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