Cricket fan Shitu Anand Patil has recently recovered from Covid-19. She’s also acutely aware of the suffering families in India are gripped by amid an overwhelming surge in coronavirus infections.
Those circumstances explain the unease she has sometimes been feeling while watching the Indian Premier League (IPL), the country’s most lucrative sporting competition which has continued even as the number of coronavirus deaths mount. On Thursday, India reported almost 380,000 new infections – another global record for the highest single-day case count – and 3,600 deaths.
“I just recovered from Covid 10 days ago and every next family that you hear, so many people in their family, friends, they’ve been losing people,” Anand Patil, who runs a design and advertizing company in Mumbai, told CNN Sport.
“A couple of my friends we lost; we keep hearing of families who needs urgent support.”
Despite the withdrawal of several high-profile players and calls for a postponement, the IPL, which attracts the world’s best cricketers on big-money contracts, is about to enter its fourth week of play.
“On some days, I’m in the mood to watch (the cricket) because it’s a respite from what’s going on. We are all locked at home, it’s a way for a family to bond together and spend good time together, especially in the lockdown when you can’t get out,” Anand Patil added.
“But on some days, it doesn’t feel right. On some days, it just feels: do we really need it?”
The IPL is operating under strict bubbles as teams move between games across the country; for Sunrisers Hyderabad players, that even meant wearing head-to-toe PPE for an internal flight to Delhi.
This week, a number of top players, including India international Ravichandran Ashwin, have stepped away from the tournament.
“My family and extended family are putting up a fight against Covid-19 and I want to support them during these tough times,” Ashwin wrote on Twitter. “I expect to return to play if things go in the right direction.”
Australian star Pat Cummins, the most expensive foreign buy in the IPL’s 2020 auction, earned plaudits this week when he donated $39,000 (50,000 Australian dollars) towards medical supplies in India. A number of other current and former players – including Sachin Tendulkar and Brett Lee – and teams like the Rajasthan Royals and the Delhi Capitals have also made donations towards Covid-19 relief efforts.
But questions are being raised about whether the game’s administrators could be doing more given the impact Covid-19 is having in India.
“This is the sport we love, the IPL for sure brings a lot of smiles and distraction in the most challenging times,” KK Ramachandran, an educator based in Coimbatore and an ardent cricket fan, told CNN Sport.
“I have no judgments on the IPL’s scheduling, but personally, I think all the sponsors, teams and organizers could have got much bigger branding points if they had focused their attention and energies on what is without a doubt one of the biggest crises humanity has faced.”
Anand Patil also said the game should be doing more to address the pandemic: “Everyone can come together and just make it feel a little better, and maybe they can donate a part of the profits for what is required in India now … oxygen and beds and what we really need at this moment.”
The ICC, international cricket’s governing body, and the BCCI, the governing body for cricket in India, did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
In an email quoted by the Guardian, Hemang Amin, the interim chief executive of the BCCI, said the organization “‘understand(s) that there are (a) few apprehensions and concerns regarding the general situation in India and the withdrawals of certain cricketers.’”
Addressing the players, Amin went on to say: “‘While you go about playing the sport we all love, you are also doing something really important … When you