The exodus of English cricketers from India started on Tuesday night within hours of the abandonment of the Indian Premier League, with players describing “chaos” as the news broke and the international cast assembled for the competition scrambled to arrange their departures.
The decision to indefinitely suspend the IPL was taken as the dire coronavirus outbreak afflicting the country finally burst through the “bio-bubbles” of several teams.
With the action over for the foreseeable future – there is some talk of a resumption, perhaps in September, though any such move would leave an already packed international schedule in disarray – the 11 English players currently with IPL teams, plus a handful of coaches and support staff, now face a battle to get home.
At least three – Chris Woakes, Sam Billings and Tom Curran, who all play for Delhi Capitals – secured places on an overnight flight to London, and will start their 10-day quarantine there on Wednesday afternoon.
“Franchises will make their arrangements to send them back,” Brijesh Patel, the IPL chairman, told Reuters. “We will extend whatever help is required.” But as the season unravelled uncertainty abounded, with one player saying he had “no idea what’s going on” as night fell.
The situation for the tournament’s English cohort does not look as complicated as that facing representatives of some other nations: there are currently no direct flights between India and Australia, for example, whereas there is one commercial service a day running between London and both Mumbai and Delhi.
Even those who managed to arrange rapid departures will have long waits before they are allowed home.
With their coronavirus outbreak spiralling out of control, India was added to the British government’s “red list” of countries from which most travel to the UK is banned on 19 April, and all British nationals returning to the country from India are required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. The department for transport confirmed that there would be no exemption for the returning cricketers.
A number of specified sporting events, from the Formula One British Grand Prix to the World Championship of Ping Pong, have negotiated special dispensation to allow competitors to train or compete during their quarantine. International cricket of all three formats is on the list, along with the T20 Blast and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, but the County Championship is not.
Its omission has already affected Derbyshire’s Australian bowler Billy Stanlake, who is yet to make his debut for the county. “If he was playing Twenty20 tomorrow he would be eligible, but because it’s four-day cricket he has to quarantine,” Derbyshire’s head of cricket, Dave Houghton, said last week.
An ECB spokesperson said on Tuesday that it was working to help bring the players home. “Following the postponement of the Indian Premier League, we are in close contact with our players and staff in India as arrangements are put in place for them to return home safely.
“The ECB understands the BCCI’s decision to postpone the competition for the safety and wellbeing of those involved, and thanks the BCCI for its commitment to do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all those taking part in the competition.
“Our thoughts remain with the people of India during these challenging times.”