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Australian cricketers in limbo after IPL suspended amid India’s deepening Covid crisis

Australia’s IPL cricketers have been left in limbo after the tournament was suspended in response to India’s Covid-19 crisis.

More than 30 players, coaches and staff in India are unable to fly home after the Australian government imposed a travel ban and threatened citizens who attempt to return with a hefty fine or even jail.

The travel ban runs until 15 May and – with the tournament originally slated to end on 30 May – Cricket Australia and the players’ union were hopeful those wishing to return home when the tournament concluded would be able to.

But Tuesday’s announcement to indefinitely suspend the competition – with no clear plan on how and when to reschedule it – leaves the Australian group facing an uncertain and anxious wait until alternative arrangements are made.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India said it would “do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021”.

Among the stranded group is star batsman Steve Smith, who was put into isolation earlier on Tuesday with the rest of the Delhi Capitals squad, which includes allrounder Marcus Stoinis and their Australia-born coaches Ricky Ponting and James Hopes.

The Capitals were the last team to face the Kolkata Knight Riders, whose match on Monday night was called off after the tournament’s previously intact biosecurity bubble was breached for the first time.

Kolkata’s Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier tested positive for Covid, forcing the rest of the team, including Australians Pat Cummins, Ben Cutting and coach David Hussey, into isolation.

Three staff members of the Chennai Super Kings, who are in Delhi, have also tested positive, with that franchise also in isolation.

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, dismissed claims made on Monday night by Michael Slater that he had “blood on his hands” for banning citizens from returning home from India.

The former Test cricketer turned commentator, who has been in India performing broadcasting duties, said the Morrison government’s policy of temporarily preventing Australians from returning home was a “disgrace”.

“No, that is obviously absurd,” Morrison said in response. “We have a temporary pause in place because we have seen a rapid escalation in the infection rate of people who have travelled out of India that is putting enormous pressure on our system and we need to ensure we can bring people safely home from India. It’s a pause to 15 May.”

IPL organisers had reportedly been considering shifting all games of the lucrative Twenty20 tournament to Mumbai.

“The tournament stands suspended, we are looking for another window,” the IPL chairman, Brijesh Patel, told Reuters. “Right now we can’t say when we can reschedule it.”

India’s tally of coronavirus infections surged past 20m on Tuesday, with 357,229 new cases over the past 24 hours, as the country battled a second wave of the disease.

“The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL,” the BCCI said.

“These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times.”

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