COVID cases in CSK camp puts Harbhajan in IPL dilemma

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The woes seem to be piling up for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) as many more of their marquee names could be considering pulling out of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the wake of confirmed COVID cases in the franchise.

As many as 13 CSK members, including players, team officials and backroom personnel are believed to have contracted the deadly virus. Pacer Deepak Chahar, who regularly features in the playing XI for CSK, has been consigned to the sick bay along with promising batsman Ruturaj Gaikwad, who was set to make his IPL debut for the Chennai franchise this year.

While the COVID cases, coupled with the exit of middle-order mainstay Suresh Raina has put worries on the faces of CSK bosses, there’s a fear now that off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who is yet to join the team in the Emirates, may not travel to the franchise’s Dubai base.

Hindustan Times quoted a source close to the player as saying, “Senior spinner Harbhajan Sjngh, who is in India and did not take part in CSK’s preparatory camp in Chennai (Aug 15-20), is worried whether to participate in the tournament or not.” The ‘Turbanator’ is scheduled to join the CSK camp on September 1, Tuesday.

What’s more, many of the franchise’s overseas recruits are yet to join the Dubai camp and the HT report claimed that they could be in a dilemma similar to Harbhajan’s – whether or not to enlist participation in the cash-rich domestic T20 league.

Amid growing concerns over player safety in the tournament, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) put out a statement, saying, “(A) total of 1,988 RT-PCR COVID tests were carried out between August 20-28 across all participant groups in the UAE.

These groups include players, support staff, team management, BCCI staff, IPL operational team, hotel and ground transport staff…All the affected personnel and their close contacts are asymptomatic and have been isolated from other team members. They are being monitored by the IPL medical team.”

While the official word on Raina’s exit was that he withdrew from the tournament citing personal reasons, it now turns out that mounting concerns over spending lonely days in a ‘biosecure bubble’ at a time when several CSK members had tested positive for the novel coronavirus may have prompted him to take a flight back home.

A report in ESPNCricinfo said Raina, who lost a member of his extended family in an attack by suspected robbers in Pathankot on August 19, is believed to have told the team management that he was finding it tough being ‘cooped up’ in a hotel room.

Several other players in the CSK camp have voiced their reservations in confining themselves to their hotel rooms in a desolate part of Dubai, the report further said.

The Times of India quoted a top CSK official as saying that the team management might not announce a replacement for Raina as of now. “It is his (Raina’s) personal decision to go back and we will never question that. He has always given his best for CSK and we honour that,” team CEO KS Vishwanathan told the daily.

Meanwhile, a report in InsideSport said that the CSK won’t play the opening game of the cash-rich tournament this year. While the BCCI had put the announcement of the match schedule on hold in the wake of the COVID cases, it is understood that the CSK was supposed to be paired against the Mumbai Indians in the opening match of Season 13.

While adamant that the tournament is on schedule despite the recent events, the BCCI and IPL will be fretting over the availability of players, especially the overseas stars, who are yet to touch base with their respective franchises.

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