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Abhinav Mukund - 'Really hard to imagine' proper bio-bubbles in the Indian domestic circuit

"As players, it'll be nice to receive some sort of proper communication about what is being discussed"

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
09-Sep-2020
'It's going to be a massive challenge to organise a tournament where 30-odd teams (38 teams) are involved'

'It's going to be a massive challenge to organise a tournament where 30-odd teams (38 teams) are involved'  •  NurPhoto/Getty Images

There is a cloud over the Indian domestic season. This makes the next few months uncertain for players without IPL contracts. Abhinav Mukund, a veteran of 145 first-class matches with over 10,000 runs, is among the many hundred cricketers affected by this uncertainty. Currently in Mumbai as part of Star's commentary team for the IPL, Abhinav chats about his experience of the bio-secure bubble, the practical difficulties in its implementation in domestic cricket, the need for state contracts and more.
How do you look at the possibility of a domestic season during the pandemic?
It's going to be a massive challenge to organise a tournament where 30-odd teams (38 teams) are involved. I understand it a lot more now because I'm part of a bio-bubble Star [host broadcasters of IPL 2020] have put in place in Mumbai for the commentators. It's very difficult to organise something where everyone, including the groundsmen, scorers, referees, umpires, has to be in a bubble. It's going to be financially taxing on anyone trying to do this. I don't see the domestic competitions happening in one place like the IPL is. So yes [if the season doesn't happen or is truncated], the financial implications will be huge for players who don't play in the IPL since it is the primary source of income for a lot of us.
What can possibly be done in such a scenario?
Cricketers in England or Australia, for example, have state contracts, but that isn't the case with us. This [forced break] will bring about the topic of contracts for domestic cricketers. But I know it's very difficult to give contracts in the current environment. It's going to be extremely taxing for every state association to come up with these SOPs, 14-day quarantines, multiple tests and medical protocols. Right now, I'm in a bubble. State associations may not be able to afford to give single rooms for every player. We're all on room sharing basis, [in domestic cricket, mostly] and here you need every player staying in a separate room before they get out of quarantine. There are so many challenges.
How has life in a bio-bubble been like?
It's actually challenging. There's no house-keeping. There are pre-set meals given to you for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A person comes in a hazmat suit every day and checks your temperature to ensure you're okay. People aren't allowed to enter your room and you're not allowed to go out. You've to clean your room, do your laundry, essentially do everything yourself for the first seven days before you test negative. After that, you're allowed room service and other things. Essentially, it's complete isolation. As active cricketers, it is tough to be inside the four walls all day. It's a selfish thing to say even but that's the reality. A lot of the players must have gone through this in Dubai. This was my first flight after the pandemic and so much has changed. The security systems have changed, you're supposed to web-check in, scan your boarding pass, what happens to our kit bags? Every domestic team may not afford chartered flights. I don't see that happening.
State associations may not be able to afford to give single rooms for every player. We're all on room-sharing basis, and here you need every player staying in a separate room before they get out of quarantine
What are the challenges of replicating this bubble for a domestic season?
I'll give you a simple example. We're currently six commentators part of the Tamil commentary team on quarantine. Just to look after us, there are 50-60 people connected directly or indirectly. No one is allowed to enter or leave the hotel. The staff is staying inside too. The entire hotel has been booked out by Star India. It becomes a bubble only if everyone involved returns a negative test. Even those belonging to the same city can't go home and have to check in to a hotel.
State associations may not be afford to give single rooms for every player. We're all on room-sharing basis, and here you need every player staying in a separate room before they get out of quarantine.
Even after the isolation, you can only go to a designated zone. Only three people max in a room, or in a large space with 25-feet distance, six people can gather. You have to give with these rules, else you're going to jeopardise a tournament. So how practical all of this will be during a domestic season, it's really hard to imagine.
Rahul Dravid said given the complexities that exist already, with the BCCI hosting over 2000 matches a season, a bio-bubble sounds impractical.
I agree with him. Essentially, one simple breach - even if you do it inadvertently - ends up having huge ramifications. We all saw how a simple detour cost Jofra Archer a Test match. It will be extremely difficult, no doubt, but from a domestic players' point of view, if not for this, what do we do?
Even if there would be a season in some form, how do you approach it?
We [BCCI] haven't had any cricket since four-five months [since March]. Some of us in Chennai had the chance to play a few local games in February after the domestic season. But in reality, it's one thing preparing for T20 cricket, I'm not saying it's any less, but preparing for the rigours of four-day cricket and the whole season itself is another challenge. It takes you about three to four weeks to get back into shape. Usually by this time we would've played 10-15 games leading up to the Ranji season. Usually a lot of teams play the invitational tournaments like the KSCA tournament or Moin-ud-Dowlah. Here, there's no preparation.
The uncertainties are too much. Lot of them have aged or ailing parents, grandparents at home. Do they want to put them at risk? The age of people getting affected with co-morbidities as they call it is the older generation. It has to be somebody's choice, whether they want to play or not. Then again, I'm not entirely sure what to say about the uncertainties.
But personally I feel, It's hard to see any cricket happening till the end of the year. From April to now, where I am in Chennai, the situation is totally different. Covid-19 has reached my street, my building even. There are so many cases, and it's just all around you and there's no escaping that. Genuinely, am not too sure how the board can go about it, but as players, it'll be nice to receive some sort of proper communication about what is being discussed, what they're thinking, what the current scenario is and what we're looking to do going forward.
Since you brought up the issue of state contracts, have you discussed it at all with the BCCI or TNCA?
I haven't, particularly. Most of us in Chennai are lucky enough to get secure jobs with corporates. There's a good club culture and you're generally paid well, but it's not the same for players from other teams. It's just now that we've all been asked to raise invoices for the gross-revenue component of our payments for the 2016-17 season. It will come sooner or later is what we've been promised and it's something we're all looking forward to. But yes, if a contract system were to come into effect, it gives you accountability both from the player and association point of view. I'm not sure Australian or English cricketers are employed by corporates. They're all contracted to the association, a lot of them continue to work for the association after their careers. It gives you security. Normally for players who don't play in the IPL, some of them play club cricket in England or Bangladesh. This year, even that has been shut out because of the pandemic. So there is no income. So yes, we do have to end up looking back to our state associations to see if a contract system would ever materialise.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo