There is a likelihood England and Australia players may not need to skip their teams' initial matches in the upcoming IPL as long as they undergo "stringent" testing processes once they land in the UAE. The group of players from both teams, which will be involved in a limited-overs series from September 2 to 16, will arrive in the UAE on September 17, according to Sanjeev Churiwala, Royal Challengers Bangalore's chairman.
According to Churiwala, the Royal Challengers squad's Indian contingent, led by their captain Virat Kohli, will land in Dubai on Friday. The squad, Churiwala pointed out, would also be joined by the South African trio of AB de Villiers, Chris Morris and Dale Steyn, who will fly out of South Africa this weekend. Sri Lanka pacer Isuru Udana, meanwhile, will join the squad on September 1.
Also, the squad will have a preparatory camp from August 29, with support staff receiving clearances to fly to the UAE and set to arrive soon.
There has been uncertainty over the participation of England and Australia players for the first few matches as the IPL had recently indicated to franchises that it was unlikely to relax the mandatory seven-day quarantine period that players had to undergo after arriving in the UAE. That period also includes team members clearing three tests before they can start training.
As many as 29 England and Australia players are spread across the eight IPL squads. The worst hit could be Rajasthan Royals as some of their main players - such as Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Steven Smith, Ben Stokes and Tom Curran - could be playing the bilateral series in England until September 16. The Royals COO, Jake Lush McCrum, had recently said even though those players "may miss the first match due to the protocols", the franchise would benefit overall as the England-Australia players would be "competing against each other in a high-quality series right before the IPL, which has many positives because it'll enable them to be at full match fitness".
Churiwala clarified that the as per the final set of the tournament's Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the players travelling from the England-Australia series will need to follow strict protocols to ensure they seamlessly pass from one biosecure bubble (in England) to the other (in the UAE).
"For the players landing after the England and Australia series, on September 17, that is very close to our matches," Churiwala said. "The BCCI have also issued very detailed SOPs and procedures to be followed by these players in terms of their participation.
"What the SOPs say very clearly [is] that they can participate without quarantine, provided they satisfy certain very stringent conditions. And they're very, very stringent. Very clearly after the players have played the [international] series, they have to continue to be in the biosecure bubble. Right from the biosecure bubble, they have to go straight to the charter flight without getting into the extensive migration procedures, and without getting in touch with the general public."
Churiwala said if any member from the travelling group breached any protocol, that person would need to undergo the six-day quarantine upon landing in the UAE and clear three Covid-19 tests in that week before joining the squad.
Given that they [England, Australia players] are already serving a bio-bubble requirement, it will be an extended bio-bubble for them as and when they land. Under no circumstances are BCCI or franchise owners saying we will compromise on the procedures.Sanjeev Churiwala, RCB's chairman
"All these players will be travelling by exclusive charter flights. They will undergo tests before arrival and if everything is [fine], they'll be fit to play the game. If not, of course, they will have to quarantine and have to undergo three rounds of tests before participating."
Churiwala said he was optimistic only because all the boards and the IPL had placed safety as a priority and the safety protocols were "mutually aligned". "Given that they [the group from the England-Australia series] are already serving a bio-bubble requirement, it will be an extended bio-bubble for them as and when they land. Under no circumstances are BCCI or franchise owners saying we will compromise on the procedures. I am very clear."
Churiwala said without the IPL schedule in hand it was difficult to predict to "what extent" the players from England and Australia could possibly miss out. "At the moment, even the [IPL] schedule has not been very clearly announced, we will just see if all players can play or some of them will have to miss matches. We don't know as yet.
"Barring English and Australian players, most of players would be available on time for the games. We'll have to see the exact schedule of the matches and to what extent our English, Australian players can participate. We just hope they don't breach any of the bio-bubble procedure requirements, so that they can make themselves available as and when we start our first match."
De Villiers, Morris, Steyn to reach UAE on August 22
According to Churiwala, Royal Challengers' South African contingent will arrive in the UAE by August 22. ESPNcricinfo understands the trio of de Villiers, Morris and Steyn have got the permission from the South African government to travel for the IPL, and they are expected to take a flight this weekend to join up with the Royal Challengers squad in Dubai.
Churiwala said it is "all clear" as far as the South African players participation was concerned - de Villiers, Steyn and Morris are currently without central contracts and hence do not need to participate in the ongoing culture camp organised by Cricket South Africa for contracted players. ESPNcricinfo understands that non-contracted players were free to leave earlier than the contracted players, who will be at the camp until August 22.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo. Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo