The IPL will start on April 16 in the UAE and is likely to be held in three phases across three countries, ending in India on June 1. A detailed schedule of dates and venues is yet to be finalised but an IPL announcement said that the first 16 matches would be held in the UAE from April 16 followed by a set of matches between May 1 and 12 to be held in either Bangladesh or, the Indian Home Ministry permitting, in India.
The announcement brought to an end a long period of speculation over the final venue. The problem arose because the tournament dates coincided with the Indian elections, scheduled from April 7 to May 12, and brought security and related issues. At the end of the players' auction in Bangalore in February, senior IPL officials had stated that the primary objective was always to hold the maximum number of matches in India. But the Indian Home Ministry made it clear that it would not be possible to provide the required security for the tournament during the elections.
However, the BCCI presented the Indian government with an alternative plan in which the tournament would return to India in early May, by when seven of the nine polling dates would have passed. The board's statement said it had approached the federal Ministry of Home Affairs for permission to play IPL matches in India from May 1-12 in cities where the polling has concluded. "If it is not possible to play in India during this period, IPL matches will be held in Bangladesh," the statement said.
If the board's request is accepted, the tournament will return to India after the UAE leg and remain there till the final. There will be no matches on May 16, the day set aside for counting of all the votes in the election.
The idea is to take minimum number of matches abroad. We want to hold at least 40 matches in 30 days. From April 16 to 30 we have to go out. Our primary objective has been to play as many matches as possible in India. Now it is clear that we will have to be out for at least two weeks," a BCCI official told ESPNCricinfo.
Immediately after the auction Ranjib Biswal, the IPL chairman, along with the BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel, had announced that South Africa would be the first choice in case the tournament were to be displaced overseas. However the BCCI official said that South Africa posed a lot of challenges in case the tournament had to be shifted only for a couple of weeks. "It is not feasible to go to South Africa for about 15-odd days because you also need to give a break of minimum three days due to logistics and travel. So a better alternative is hold the tournament in either UAE or Bangladesh," the officials said.
Asked why UAE was picked as the venue for the first set of matches, Biswal said Bangladesh would not be ready in April, having hosted two back-to-back multi-team tournaments. "Bangladesh has just finished hosting the Asia Cup and will now be busy till the first week of April with the World T20. So the pitches would be weary," Biswal said.
Incidentally, at the end of the auction in February, it is understood the BCCI president N Srinivasan sought the opinion from all the franchises on hosting matches in the UAE. Most franchises were happy especially due to the Gulf nation's proximity to India, but a few did check on the perception of the match-fixing cloud still around the UAE. But Biswal said that the IPL had done a through recce of the venues at UAE and got assurances.
"The government of UAE has given us assurances that they would be giving us adequate facilities, including security during the tournament," Biswal said.
The UAE had been a popular venue for Indian cricket in the '80s and '90s but the Indian national team has generally avoided playing in the UAE since the match-fixing scandal of 2000. India have featured in only two ODIs there in the past decade.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo