Two Australian cricketers became the latest to pull out of the IPL today as India's devastating coronavirus surge increases jitters around the glitzy tournament.
Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson are returning to Australia for “personal reasons”, their Royal Challengers Bangalore team said, joining Rajasthan Royals bowler Andrew Tye who flew back on Sunday.
India star Ravichandran Ashwin also withdrew to support his family on Sunday as India staggers under a daily toll of 350,000 infections and almost 3,000 deaths from the virus.
The Indian Premier League has attracted criticism for continuing during the crisis, with a leading newspaper group accusing it of “commercialism gone crass” as it suspended coverage on Sunday.
India's surge in infections has made it the world's latest hotspot for Covid-19 and has overwhelmed health services, with severe shortages of oxygen, medicine and hospital beds.
Meanwhile the world's richest Twenty20 cricket league, which attracts top international players, is being played behind closed doors in six Indian cities.
Last year's coronavirus-postponed IPL was moved to the United Arab Emirates to reduce the risk of infections. India is also due to host the T20 World Cup in October-November.
Zampa and Richardson are “returning to Australia for personal reasons and will be unavailable for the remainder of #IPL2021”, their team tweeted.
Tye, who flew back on Sunday, said other players had asked him about his return home. Flights to Australia are limited, and some countries have banned or restricted arrivals from India as its cases spike.
“Some of the guys are very interested in what route I took home and how I approached it,” Tye told the SEN WA radio station.
“Other guys are just happy to make sure I'm OK and make sure I'm in a good space.”
Cricket Australia said it was in contact with IPL players, coaches and commentators and was listening to their “feedback” and advice from the Australian government. “Our thoughts are with the people of India at this difficult time,” a statement said.
Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting described India's coronavirus situation as “quite grim”.
“Continually I'm asking the boys at breakfast every day how's everything going on the outside? How's family? Family safe? Family happy? That's a really important thing,” he said, according to espncricinfo.com.
“It is really important, we are thinking about the extended family, not just us, but we've got to be talking about what's happening outside because it is quite grim.” Several players, including India spinner Axar Patel, have tested positive, and others withdrew before the tournament over pandemic concerns.
Criticism has grown of the IPL, with the Express Publications newspaper group saying it had stopped reporting on the competition until a “semblance of normalcy is restored”.
“In such a tragic time, we find it incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India,” the newspaper group said.