IPL 2020 schedule: Will the first leg of the tournament be in Dubai only?

Dividing teams into two clusters also being mulled, with less than three weeks to go

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
The Rajasthan Royals squad trains at the ICC academy ahead of the upcoming IPL, Dubai, August 26, 2020

The Rajasthan Royals squad trains at the ICC academy ahead of the upcoming IPL  •  Rajasthan Royals

IPL 2020 is less than three weeks away, but the tournament's schedule - which some believe may be dynamic to account for unforeseen situations, like members of a team testing positive - hasn't been announced yet. The news of several members of the Chennai Super Kings contingent testing positive for Covid-19, including two players, has potentially further complicated the scheduling challenge.
"We'll see if they [Chennai Super Kings] can start as per schedule," BCCI president Sourav Ganguly told the Times of India. "I hope the IPL will be conducted well. We have a long schedule for the tournament, and I sincerely hope everything will go on just fine."
Brijesh Patel, the IPL governing council chairman, and Hemang Amin, the IPL chief operating officer, are believed to be discussing the matter with UAE government officials and health authorities. While they work it all out, we take you through a number of scheduling scenarios that have emerged as potential options over the last three weeks.
First part of the tournament in Dubai?
Six out of the eight teams are currently based in Dubai and have been allowed to train at the ICC Academy. Most sides won't be training at the stadiums till match day. One of the proposals doing the rounds is to have at least the first 20 games in Dubai. This would mean only two teams - Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, who are based in Abu Dhabi - would have to change emirates for matches, negative test reports in tow. That's a simpler option compared to the six Dubai-based teams having to head to Abu Dhabi - or even Sharjah - for their matches.
There has been a spike in infection cases in the UAE, and mandatory checks have increased at the Abu Dhabi-Dubai border, making travel into Abu Dhabi more time consuming than before. Each crossing into Abu Dhabi involves testing 48 hours before the journey to account for the more stringent requirements of that emirate.
Teams will likely have to undergo a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test and/or a DPI (Dye Penetration Inspection) test before being permitted to enter at the border. Similarly, if the Abu Dhabi-based teams have matches in Dubai, they will likely need to be tested in the 48 hours leading up to their return from Dubai.
It is to minimise these lengthy procedural delays that the idea of having the first leg in Dubai alone is being discussed. While IPL officials have obtained certain clearances after discussions with local officials and the Emirates Cricket Board, a full withdrawal of protocols for a cricket tournament is unlikely.
Cluster scheduling?
One of the ideas is to have two unofficial groups with simultaneous schedules, possibly on a weekly or fortnightly basis. If a situation arises where a team in one of the groups isn't able to take the field because of infections or isolation protocols, the other group can continue to play out their matches undisturbed.
If a player tests positive during the tournament, he will have to go into quarantine for 14 days as per the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and will be allowed to re-enter the bio-bubble only after clearing two tests after the two-week period. The other members of the team and support staff will have to be quarantined for six days and go through three tests - on days 1, 3 and 5 - and can get on with their business only upon clearing these tests.
Cluster scheduling will allow at least half of the tournament to move forward in such a scenario, with the team that is missing out having to catch up with their matches in their group after coming through testing and quarantine regulations.
Should cluster scheduling be sanctioned, it is as yet not clear what the protocol will be for the other three teams in the infected team's group - whether they will continue to play among themselves, or if the whole group's matches will come to a halt while these other teams are also tested as a precaution.
While such a possibility will throw a team(s) off gear, given they won't be allowed to train outdoors during quarantine, it's a reality everyone has to be prepared for.
Question mark over double-headers?
Some teams are understood to have reservations about playing games in the extreme afternoon temperatures of the UAE summer - the early game in a double-header is scheduled to begin at 2pm local time, and ten double-headers had tentatively been penciled in by the IPL governing council when it announced the decision to shift the tournament to the UAE. Whether that is still a concern or not remains to be seen.
With inputs from Shamya Dasgupta

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo