Rahul Dravid, the former India captain, has all but ruled out the possibility of a full 2020-21 domestic season in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He stressed on the need for the BCCI to prioritise the tournaments they want to conduct in the limited time frame that could be available from after October-November.
For context, a total of 2036 games, across various age groups in the men's and women's category, were played during the 2019-20 season. Under normal circumstances, July would have marked the start of the domestic season in India. Many associations, like TNCA and KSCA, have earlier used the window to conduct highly-competitive first-class matches in preparation for the domestic season.
With India's metro cities still under some sort of restrictions post the Covid-19 lockdown, associations have either indefinitely postponed or cancelled their tournaments, leaving hundreds of domestic cricketers uncertain. The National Cricket Academy, which Dravid heads, hasn't resumed operations, and it's unclear yet as to when a formal SOP will be released for the resumption of domestic cricket in the country.
"Hopefully if we're able to find a level of cure or vaccine even towards the end of the year, we'll be in a position to be able to complete, even if not the whole domestic season, but large parts of it," Dravid said in a webinar hosted by Deccan Herald. "Obviously prioritising what that would be is important so that young boys and girls don't miss out on cricket for a year. We've been lucky so far [that the pandemic started in March towards the end of BCCI's domestic season], but come October, things might start getting stressful.
"A few international tournaments have been cancelled and repositioned, and people can always find time and place for that, but once October comes around, that's when I think it'll start hitting us more. The next domestic season, for a lot of our young domestic players - juniors, Under-16s, Under-19s and women cricketers - start in October. If we aren't able to get back to a level of normalcy from then - it could take longer - we'll see the real impact on our domestic cricket and grassroots cricket. This year is probably more important for someone in his final year of Under-19s, than say for someone who is 23-24."
Dravid welcomed the resumption of international cricket with the England-West Indies series last month, but emphasised it may not be easy to create similar biosecure bubbles in domestic or junior cricket. The senior men's domestic calendar, for example, has 38 teams criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country for matches. In some cases, teams from the North East host matches at neutral venues citing infrastructural challenges. Such conditions will leave BCCI with several logistical challenges in hosting domestic tournaments.
"It was nice to watch some live cricket with the England-West Indies series. They did a great job of ensuring the kind of environment they created," he said. "I heard Jason Holder say much later that it was tough being in that [biosecure] environment for more than two months. But it was important that we got something going, and great that it got going without a hitch. But my worry is that in domestic or junior cricket, it [biobubbles] may not be easy to create."
Dravid also went to great lengths to explain the importance of IPL taking place for the well-being of the cricket ecosystem in India. He was specifically asked about the "BCCI's desperation to host IPL" at a time when many world events, like the Tokyo Olympics, have been postponed.
"I'm sure leagues like the IPL will be able to put in the kind of biosecure environments required, like what EPL, Bundesliga or what ECB did with the England-West Indies series," he said. "I'm sure every effort will be made to do that. Let's be honest. There is a lot of revenue that rides with tournaments like the IPL. I know if you're cynical about it, you can only look at the money that the big players make or maybe the franchises or BCCI make, but where does that money go? It goes down to state associations, in conducting Under-19 and Under-16 tournaments, so a lot of the revenue associated with the game.
"The fact of the matter is, none of the domestic sport actually generates any revenue. In fact, it costs a lot of money to hold. So if you want to give young boys and girls the opportunity to play, if you want to give them opportunities to express their talent, money has got to come from somewhere. The reality is, to conduct tournaments and develop high-class athletes, it costs money; there's a financial element involved.
"It's easy to say we're conducting [the IPL] it only because of the huge finances riding on it. I would like to think, without compromising on safety and ensuring all the SOPs are in place to conduct a safe and secure tournament, the money generated from the IPL filters all through our sport and helps fund junior and domestic cricket. That is why sporting organisations are keen to conduct these tournaments. They understand if we don't have that revenue, not only will that tournament suffer but the ripple effect will be felt all the way down."