Indian cricket’s COVID curse has trapped everyone in its path – commentators, players, their bosses and now even governments.
In some ways the furore which followed Michael Slater’s outburst against Scott Morrison’s Indian travel ban spotlighted the fact that every step in this COVID-challenged Indian Premier League has the potential to create volcanic debate and massive division.
When Slater suggested Morrison had “blood on his hands” many social media pundits opened fire with the general theme of “you chose to travel there … don’t play the privileged (ex) cricketer seeking a saloon passage home.”
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But there were others who were on his side and thought the government’s threat of a five year jail term for Australians who tried to return from India before May 15 was outrageous.
The minute that jail threat was announced a shockwave went through the 40 or so Australian IPL players and staff in India.
“It was not as if we were planning to come home before that date that hit so hard – it was just the fact that we couldn’t,” one IPL player said. “It was like a door being slammed in your face.”
If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It’s a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect
— Michael Slater (@mj_slats) May 3, 2021
Some players remain nervous and anxious about what lies ahead, even after Morrison hinted direct flights may resume after May 15, the final day of the original shutdown.
A resumptions of flights would be a major relief because if the ban were deemed necessary to be extended, no one has a road map out of the mess.
In bygone generations there were troubled tours when Australian teams would have a daily numerical countdown of days left before the flight home.
Each day would be named in honour of a footballer who wore the relevant number on his jersey and the certainty of knowing when the flight home was gave them comfort.
Now nothing can be considered certain until it happens.
Cricket Australia would love to sidestep the viper’s den that this season’s IPL has become but simply can’t.
Had CA officials wanted to make life easy for themselves they might say: “Hey, the players are in India on private deals under their own steam and must find their own way home. Remember we recently cancelled our South African tour because of COVID concerns. Don’t blame us.”
But life does not work that way.
Australia accepts, as it must, it has a duty of care to its players that stretches beyond the fine print of an MOU so it is heading – ever so cautiously – into the discussion knowing every misplaced comma will see sparks fly.
CA boss Nick Hockley spoke of his body’s deep concern for the players on Monday, how they are staying in touch and basically promised not to desert them.
But moral support is one thing – firm travel plans out of a COVID ravaged nation quite another.
The trickiest step is the next one – getting players home after the tournament and it’s here that all sorts of conflicting pressures come into play.
CA would love to help its players return as quickly as possible but it’s a subtle science given that 9000 other Australians want to return home as well.
Any move that creates the impression the Australians are queue jumping will create some rough turbulence but there is no perfect solution.
CA has distanced itself from any talk about a charter flight for the players because such a move is laced with that dreaded sauce called “special privilege” that CA knows outrages the masses.
But several IPL franchises are known to have offered their private jets to help out if players need them.
No plan is set in stone. No idea is off the table.
Originally published as Trapped: ‘No perfect solution’ to Aussies’ IPL nightmare