Sri Lanka, UAE among back-up venues for 2021 T20 World Cup

The UAE is one of the potential back-up venues for the 2021 men's T20 World Cup Abu Dhabi Cricket

Sri Lanka and the UAE are among the back-up venues for the 2021 men's T20 World Cup, should the Covid-19 pandemic make India an untenable host. The ICC confirmed last week that India will host next year's tournament as scheduled in the original Future Tours Programme while this year's postponed edition in Australia goes ahead in 2022.

Identifying potential back-up venues is standard practice for every ICC event, but it takes on extra significance in this time because of the nature of the pandemic. India is currently the third-worst-hit country in the world in terms of cases, according to most data studies, with over 2 million cases so far and over 45,000 deaths. The current situation has forced the BCCI to relocate the IPL to the UAE, and only tentative plans are in place for the domestic season.

ESPNcricinfo has contacted BCCI president Sourav Ganguly about the back-up venues but is yet to receive a response. The BCCI has remained steadfast about hosting the 2021 T20 World Cup instead of 2022 primarily because it does not want to host three big tournaments (including the 2023 IPL and the 2023 World Cup) back-to-back.

Much speculation has surrounded the decision around these events, which included postponing the Women's World Cup to 2022 as well, as well as surprise because Cricket Australia had initially been keen on hosting the event in 2021. But, ESPNcricinfo understands, a recent albeit localised outbreak of Covid-19 within Australia has played a part in CA agreeing to host it in 2022.

In May, CA chairman Earl Eddings had written to the ICC asking for the event to be postponed and for Australia to be awarded hosting rights for 2021. At the time Australia was coming out of lockdown, having successfully suppressed the spread of Covid-19. The Finance & Commercial Affairs (F&CA) committee - on which Eddings sits - drew several options in case of a postponement and, according to one official, had eventually come to the conclusion before last week's ICC board meeting that staging the postponed event in Australia next year was the option of "least risk".

To what degree those risk scenarios took into account the recent surge of cases in Victoria is not clear. Australia avoided the worst of the pandemic early but has been forced to lock down Victoria recently after an outbreak of cases, and will remain that way until at least September, with its borders shut for inter-state travel. The other states are continuing as normal at the moment and AFL and NRL seasons have been ongoing, playing mainly in Queensland and Western Australia at present with teams in hubs.

Discussions during last Friday's board meeting did get detailed enough to compare caseloads in both India and Australia, as well as look at the professional sport taking place in parts of Australia already. But subsequently, when CA agreed to India retaining the 2021 event - Eddings saying his board could not commit the support of the Australian government to host that tournament - there was, according to several officials, "considerable surprise" in the boardroom.

On Saturday Nick Hockley, CA's interim CEO, said his board had made it "very, very clear to the ICC" that the support of the Australian government had been forthcoming. "Contrary to reports that's not right. We made it very, very clear to the ICC and we're extremely grateful from the assurances we've had from government at every level about their continued support, whether the event was held in 2021 or 2022. Certainly the support we've received, and continue to receive, from federal government and states and territories governments all around the country has been fantastic. I don't think there's anything in that."

The situation in Victoria has led to a recognition, however, that the 2021 event will be more difficult because of the pandemic and that it is likely to bring less of a windfall for its host in terms of ticketing and corporate revenue. CA is also likely to have factored in that not hosting a global event next year will lead to a less complex lead-in to the 2021-22 Ashes.

"We'd sold hundreds of thousands of tickets for this [2020] World Cup coming up in October and November," Hockley said. "From a cricket sense, we've got incredible communities and supporters for all the competition nations.

"In terms of hosting in 2022 we're all acutely aware of the challenges at the moment with hosting, travel restrictions and the like. So in many ways 2022 gives us an even better chance of putting on the event we all originally planned for and were hoping for. We hope by 2022 that the world's back and we've got some normalcy and I think it'll be a fantastic event."

There was also believed to have been discussion about delaying the decision on venues until as late as March 2021. That scenario, though, was swiftly dismissed, given that it would have involved leaving major tournament undertakings in more or less suspended animation in both Australia and India at considerable cost, in addition to issues around biosecurity, travel exemptions and the wide variation in what might be expected for crowds and ticketing.