‘BCCI Let Their Hair Down’ – Former Cricketers Question IPL Bio-Bubble Security After Breach

Written by Vipin Darwade

BCCI Tuesday suspended IPL 2021 amid rising number of Covid-19 cases among players and support staff in the last 48 hours. A total of 29 league games were played this season. 30th match between RCB and KKR was rescheduled on Monday after Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier tested positive in the IPL 2021 bio-bubble. On Tuesday, hours before the clash between Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Mumbai Indians (MI) in New Delhi, wicketkeeper-batsman Wridhimman Saha who plays for the Hyderabad-based franchise, tested positive for the deadly virus which has wrecked havoc in India. It had left BCCI with no option, but to call off the cash-rich league.

While some who have experienced life in a bio-bubble say that it is 100 per cent safe, some others feel safer in it rather than even in their own homes. A few others also say that life in the bubble is not 100 per cent safe, citing the example of Kiran More, the former India wicketkeeper who is currently Mumbai Indians’ scout and wicketkeeping consultant, testing positive just before IPL began this season. More was the only one among the entire MI contingent to test positive despite being in the team bubble and not stepping out of it, even not going out of his team hotel room except for practice sessions.

Agreed that Varun Chakravarthy went through a green channel to a hospital to get a scan done for his shoulder last week. This meant that he had gone out of the bio-bubble.

“Why was he not quarantined if he went to a hospital for a scan? He should have been sent to isolation. The BCCI rules mention so. He may have gone through the ‘green channel’ but still, he has left the bio-bubble. He must have been allowed to rejoin the squad after isolation and after testing negative. Why was this not followed? After the scan, he even played a match. So, he has not only come in contact with his teammates and support staff but also the opposition and the umpires. It is scary,” said an official who has been in a bio-bubble and understands the protocols to be followed.

He also pointed that while every Covid protocol was followed to the last diktat when IPL was held in Dubai/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi late last year, why is it that the same is not followed in India.

“Is it because they let their hair down just because IPL is being held in their own country and they can do whatever they feel like? Also, do hotels that accommodate the IPL teams have other guests in them and if so, do they have separate entry/exits? There are so many people serving the teams like the housekeeping staff, those serving food, etc. Who do you believe? Hotels may be testing their staff regularly, but still what is the guarantee that the virus doesn’t spread from them?” he asked.

Another source in the know of things said: “One can never be sure where the virus is. But one thing is for sure, the virus can breach the bio-bubble. Players may touch the advertising boards, cameramen at the venues get help from many others from outside that they may come in contact with. The milk, the vegetables, the provisions that reach the hotels, umpires using the lift at the stadium to go to the TV umpire’s room on a higher floor, security staff everywhere, you never can be sure where the virus is.

“That said, the BCCI is doing a wonderful job to make it a safe environment. But how much can we do to control it. It can be done to some extent. The bio-bubble is certainly a much better and safer place as there is no contact with outsiders. Players also have responsibilities and they will be extra careful, doing their best to stay safe and not be the carrier in any way.”

Another former player said that while the media and public have been completely kept out of the stadiums for this IPL, the relatives of the players, team owners and supporters should also have been kept away.

“We know for sure that the players’ washrooms are very well maintained and sanitised. But what about the 40-50 odd people that the relatives of players, owners, and some of the supporters in the stands? They share common washrooms. What is the guarantee that they may not be carriers? The players’ relatives, largely spouses and girlfriends, travel separately but join the players in their hotel rooms. One cannot be so certain because the relatives are exposed and outside the bubble, in the stands. And, in the initial matches, there was no social distancing nor were they wearing masks in the stands.”

A former Test player who has experienced life in a bubble said that the bio-bubble protocols should be followed strictly. “Otherwise, the BCCI’s efforts to make it a very safe IPL are going waste. Being in a bio-bubble doesn’t mean you are okay by testing negative. You have to follow everything 100 per cent, even 120 per cent. When you allow someone to go out of the bubble, you are taking a risk as you never know where the strain is.”

For those who are not aware of hotel life in bio-bubbles, it is like this. Players, officials, or commentators are quarantined before they join the bubble. During their isolation period, they are not supposed to step out of their hotel rooms. They are not even allowed to open the door and talk to a teammate staying just the opposite room. There is no laundry service, no change of towels/bedsheets on a daily basis as is done otherwise. Food is kept outside the door in disposable packets and doorbell rung, and before the guest can open the door, the hotel staff keeping the food outside has disappeared.

If anyone has left the bubble even for a day to visit home or a relative, he/she has to compulsorily follow six-day isolation before joining the rest of his team-mates.

Chakravarthy may have gone through the green channel, wearing a PPE kit, taken his scan by hospital doctors/ staff who may have been in PPE kits with masks and face shields and all that, but still may have contacted from there. One can never know.

Asked another former player: “How was the scan done? What precautions were taken? What was the time gap between the scan for Varun and somebody who was scanned before him? Considering that he has got the scan done in a hospital in Ahmedabad, where the cases are rising, the hospital may have had many people waiting to take scans. If the green channel was to be used, should the team not have ensured that all the dotted lines were joined properly and followed?”

England pacer Jofra Archer went away from the bio-bubble to visit home after the first Test of the England-West Indies Test series, the rubber that saw the return of international cricket after a prolonged break due to the pandemic last year. Archer was kept out of the second Test and returned to the third Test.

A former international batsman was surprised that Chakravarthy and Warrier tested positive and that he reserved his judgment until after they have been tested two more times in the coming days. “I have known a close friend who was also a part of the bio-bubble testing positive on the first instance but again testing negative in his next two tests over four days,” said the former Test batsman. “If people in bio-bubble, which is safer than what I feel at home, can test positive, imagine people on the streets. It is a very sad thing. Whatever I have seen, the BCCI rules are very strict. It is impossible to organise a tournament under the prevailing situation, and BCCI is doing fantastic in every possible way. Everything is managed well. Also, this is going to be the new norm for a sportsperson. Live in a bio-bubble, be ready to be quarantined, be tested every two days. It may not be easy but that is how it will be.”

But Chakravarthy’s case is an eye-opener for everyone concerned, and there are bound to be even more stringent measures that BCCI will ensure so as to finish the remaining matches. After all, had Monday’s match between KKR and RCB been held, IPL 2021 would have crossed half the ocean. With another half remaining, BCCI may want to finish it earlier before things go out of control. “Even if it means having doubleheaders to finish early,”  a former Test player said.

About the author

Vipin Darwade