Since Covid-19 struck, cricketers have been forced to play sport in strict bio-bubbles, which have caused mental fatigue, resulting in many of them opting out of key tours and games. However, Shah says that with their families too staying with them in the bubbles, the players also enjoyed being there. “Yes, it’s tough for the players. However, they got a family-like atmosphere inside the hotel bio-bubble. In the case of the IPL, we had hotels dedicated to each team. The whole tournament was held at one place. All the teams had their lounges, recreational centres (to relax and unwind). So, they also enjoyed it,” said the BCCI secretary.
Did he get worried when the Delhi Capitals camp was struck by multiple covid cases during IPL-15? “My reaction was that ‘we’ve to move on.’ For us, the safety and security of the players is paramount, but still, we decided to move on. We shifted DC’s match from Pune to Mumbai.We got all the players/support staff struck by covid treated properly. We kept conducting RT-PCR tests for DC’s members on a daily basis. Fortunately, all DC members were fine later,” said Shah. Did the BCCI have a plan B ready at that time? “No, it didn’t occur to us because the covid outbreak was only in one team,” he said.
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Shah was all praise for the cricket associations of Mumbai and Maharashtra for helping the BCCI organize 70 matches-the entire league stage of IPL-15, successfully. “We want to thank them for helping us out. If we had conducted the IPL in entire India, and there was a covid outbreak, then everyone would’ve suffered-both the players and the BCCI would’ve suffered financial losses. We organized it in Mumbai and Pune because we could do away with air travel for the teams. Ground transport was enough,” Shah explained.
Having conducted three IPLs during pandemic time, the BCCI deserves praise, felt Shah. “We were amongst the first cricket boards which conducted a domestic league (during covid, in 2020 in the UAE). We created the largest bio-bubble in the world. When IPL-2020 kicked off, there wasn’t a single covid case. We conducted more than 30,000 covid tests during that tournament. We’ve to thank the UAE government also for giving felicitating on arrival visas and providing tight security. In 2021, we tried to hold the IPL in India, but the moment there was a covid outbreak in the teams, we immediately postponed the IPL and shifted it to UAE,” Shah elaborated.
On Saturday, a few ICC officials visited the Narendra Modi Stadium here. “They visited the stadium with me. They were mesmerized and happy to see it. We had lunch together at the stadium. It would be better if you ask them about it,” Shah said.
As a Gujarati, Shah must be feeling pleased from deep within that Gujarat Titans are in the IPL final, but his post doesn’t allow him to show any emotions. “As a BCCI secretary, I’ve to be fair. I’m supporting both the teams. Let’s see, whoever plays well will win the tournament,” he said.
The closing ceremony promises to be a grand show. “we gave the tender for it to the company which has quoted the lowest price. AR Rahman (noted musician) will perform in connection with India’s memorable wins, while Ranveer Singh (Bollywood actor) will perform on a theme about individuals from various regions in India,” he said.
Describing how the idea of rebuilding the Motera into the present massive, 1,32,000 capacity Narendra Modi Stadium here came about, Shah said: “The idea (to rebuild Motera) was given by the Prime Minister (Narandra Modi) and Home Minister (Amit Shah). They gave us the strength to do it. L&T won the bid to construct the stadium, and it took three years to be rebuilt. There are 81 (corporate boxes) in the stadium-75 on one side, and six on the other. The stadium has LED lights (It’s the first sports stadium in India that features the unique ring lighting arrangement of LED luminaires installed on the catwalk of the stadium) which cut shadow, with 3,000 lux power. One of the main features of this stadium is that it has a complex which has a facility for 40-odd sports. The stadium has a clubhouse also. The government is planning to turn it into a big sports complex. In the future, this complex can stage the Olympics or the Asian Games too.” Olympics and Asiad? “If we can stage the IPL final, we can host anything,” he said tongue-in-cheek!
“For us (Gujarat), hosting the IPL final is a proud occasion. Although I’m the BCCI secretary, we’re thankful to the Board for giving Ahmedabad this opportunity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold a closing ceremony in the last three years, but now with government guidelines allowing for it, we’ve decided to stage it. The biggest thing is that the closing ceremony will highlight the 75 years of India’s independence-the theme will be on Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsva, as per the PM’s wishes,” said Shah.