More than 30 Australian cricket players, coaches and commentators have been left stranded in India after Sydney made it illegal for them to return with the threat of jail.
It comes after stars Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson were able to arrive in Melbourne on Thursday on a commercial flight from Doha via a travel loophole.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that route, and others through Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, had now been closed to put a total ban on travel from India, which recorded 400,000 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday.
The government yesterday went a step further as it unveiled an emergency bill that will see anyone arriving from India jailed for up to five years or fined up to £37,000.
Thirty-four Australians remain in India – 12 players, 11 coaches, four commentators, two umpires and five support staff, and a commentator from New Zealand who lives in Australia.
Steve Smith is pictured with his wife Dani Willis. Smith was purchased for $390,000 at February’s auction to represent the Delhi Capitals. David Warner, pictured right with wife Candice, is earning £1.3 million
AJ Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson made the decision to escape the lucrative league early while Test players Steve Smith, Dave Warner and Pat Cummins (pictured with fiancée Becky Boston) stayed put
Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson touched down in Melbourne late Thursday afternoon via a commercial flight from Qatar, exposing a gap in Scott Morrison’s travel ban.
Funeral pyres have been burning around the clock in cities across India to cope with the dead (pictured: a crematorium in Bengaluru)
Health workers wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) suits attend patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in Delhi on Saturday
Mr Morrison promised that the sporting stars would not receive any preferential treatment under the new rules to protect Australia’s successful zero Covid strategy
Among the star players are Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins, Steve Smith and David Warner, while big names like Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich and David Hussey are working for clubs or for broadcasters.
Cummins’ contract is worth £1.8 million, while Warner is earning £1.3 million.
In addition to the cricketers, more than 9,000 Australian citizens are believed to be in India.
Mr Morrison promised that the sporting stars would not receive any preferential treatment under the new rules to protect Australia’s successful zero Covid strategy.
‘They have travelled there privately,’ the PM said on Tuesday. ‘This wasn’t part of an Australian tour. They’re under their own resources and they’ll be using those resources too, I’m sure, to see them return to Australia in accordance with their own arrangements.’
The lucrative Twenty20 tournament is due to wrap up on May 30 and the players are housed in a ‘biosecure bubble,’ with no plans to cancel any fixtures.
Earlier this week, organisers came under renewed flak as a match between the Rajasthan Royals and the Mumbai Indians was played just a few hundred yards away from Delhi’s largest hospital where patients were dying for lack of oxygen.
England’s Jos Buttler played in the fixture along with Indian stars Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.
Cricket Australia released their own statement earlier this week after Mr Morrison announced the new travel ban on India, saying it was in constant discussion with players and coaches in the country.
‘We will assist where possible,’ the statement read. ‘We will continue to liaise closely with the Australian government following today’s announcement that direct flights from India to Australia will be paused until 15 May, and monitor the situation between now and the tournament’s scheduled conclusion on 30 May.’
It comes as Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan, warned that quarantine facilities in the state had already been placed under huge strain by people arriving from India.
Glenn Maxwell (pictured with his partner Vini) is on £1.4 million with Royal Challengers Bangalore
Batsman Chris Lynn (pictured with partner Karlie Andrews) has led calls for Cricket Australia to organise a plane to get players out of India
Moises Henriques (pictured with partner Krista), who is playing for the Punjab Kings, also remains in India
Mr McGowan said on Tuesday that there was ‘huge pressure now on all our quarantine facilities as a result of people coming from India.’
‘What makes it more galling is people have gone over there, over the course of the past few months,’ he added.
One of the girlfriends of the cricket stars, Chris Lynn, who is earning $357,000 £200,000 playing for the Mumbai Indians, led calls this week for Cricket Australia to charter a plane to get the players out.
Karlie Andrews told Daily Mail Australia she did not feel comfortable commenting on the current situation ‘as everything is still up in the air’ – but admitted fellow WAGs are keen to get their loved ones home to Australia as soon as possible.
‘I know the IPL is doing everything they can to keep our players safe in their bubble,’ she said.
‘And I know all partners would obviously love to have their significant other home safe and well ASAP when IPL is complete.
‘Hopefully (Chris) is home at the end of May. It is not ideal and I miss him heaps but it won’t be forever and so just have to hang in there.’
Ms Andrews said she was hopeful Cricket Australia would charter a flight to pull the players out of India once the IPL finishes but noted she was ‘not sure’ that would be the case.
Australian cricketer Adam Zampa (pictured with fiancee Harriet) touched down in Melbourne along with Kane Richardson on Thursday
David Warner and Kane Williamson are seen in full PPE as they travel on a plane during the IPL
India is in the eye of the world’s Covid storm, with funeral pyres burning around the clock in Delhi and Mumbai and hospitals under armed guard to protect oxygen supplies.
Despite emergency medical gear arriving from Britain and the United States, including a USAF cargo jet with 400 oxygen cylinders on Friday, there remains an acute shortage of oxygen, medicines and beds across India.
People are dying in the streets and on stretchers outside the overcrowded hospitals, while IPL matches are played just a few blocks away.
The tournament has continued, with players offering donations to help Covid victims and others making the case that it provides much needed relief for the fearful population.