The 2022 season of IPL is set to start in the last week of March, and is scheduled to run till May end. ESPNcricinfo has learned that in a meeting with the ten franchises on Saturday (January 22), the IPL authorities informed owners that they had pencilled in March 27 as a likely start date.
The franchises were also told that the tournament would be held in India, with Mumbai slotted in as the main venue. And in case the Covid-19 numbers in India are low at the time, Ahmedabad could be considered as a second venue to host the playoffs. In case the pandemic situation in India is not feasible to host the tournament, then South Africa and the UAE will be the back-up options in no particular order. At Saturday's meeting, the IPL told the franchises that a final decision is expected to be taken by February 20.
"I am delighted to confirm that the 15th season of the IPL will start in the last week of March and will run until May end," BCCI secretary Jay Shah said in a statement released on Saturday evening. "A majority of the team owners expressed their wish that the tournament be held in India. The BCCI was always keen on staging the 2022 edition that will see two new teams - Ahmedabad and Lucknow - in India. I can tell you that we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that IPL stays in India. The BCCI has not compromised on the health and safety of its stakeholders in the past and will concurrently work on Plan B since the COVID-19 situation with new variants remains fluid. The mega IPL Auction will take place on February 12-13th and we will lock in venues before that."
The reason the IPL has zeroed in on just one venue in Mumbai, which has multiple grounds, was to avoid travel and the debacle of 2021 edition, when the tournament had to be called off at the halfway stage due to the spike in the number of cases among teams. One key reason responsible for teams reporting growing Covid-19 positive cases was travelling between different cities. The tournament was postponed, before the second leg was held in the UAE in September-October.
India is currently experiencing the third wave of the pandemic, with the Omicron variant dominant across the country. Though the impact is less severe, the high degree of transmissibility has led to stringent curbs on movement and public activities in big cities.
Incidentally, even in 2021, the IPL had thought about holding the entire tournament in Mumbai, before deciding to host it across two cities at a time. This time they have decided to wait until mid-February, by when necessary government permissions would have been received and the feasibiity of hosting the tournament, which will feature 74 matches, in Mumbai can be checked.
Along with the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai also has two other grounds that have hosted international matches: the Brabourne Stadium and the DY Patil stadium. There is also the Mumbai Cricket Association-run ground in Bandra-Kurla Complex, which has hosted domestic tournaments and where IPL teams have trained in the past.
Teams split over UAE and South Africa
It is learned that not all teams are unanimous about either of the two back-up options. Some of the franchises pointed out that the UAE, which has three venues, was becoming more predictable in terms of results as witnessed during the men's T20 World Cup that was held in 2021, as well as the second leg of IPL 2021 that immediately preceded it. Another concern with the UAE was that the pitches could become weary by April-May, after a long season with multiple tournaments. However, others felt that barring Sharjah, which dished out slower pitches with low bounce last IPL, Dubai and Abu Dhabi hosted close contests.
Some franchises also backed UAE only because there was no internal travel involved and the venue itself overall had been one of the safest spots globally during the pandemic. It was also pointed out by the IPL authorities that South Africa had one clear advantage in terms of multiple venues, but the counter to that - as pointed out by some franchises - was that any travel during the pandemic came laden with risk, as was already experienced in the first half of IPL 2021 in India, when the country had struggled to cope with the Delta variant.
It is learned that some franchises said that one crucial aspect that the IPL had to take into account was the absence of any window in 2022 in case the tournament were to disrupted once again, due to travel-related reasons.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo