CRICKET NEWS - Two Australian cricketers became the latest stars to pull out of the Indian Premier League on Monday as top bowler Pat Cummins said the tournament was being kept open to distract attention from the growing coronavirus toll on the country.
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 the country staggers under 350,000 new infections and almost 3,000 deaths each day.
England batsman Liam Livingstone left the Royals last week just before Britain imposed a travel clampdown on India as its hospitals became overwhelmed and shortages of oxygen and hospital beds grew.
A handful of players, including India star Axar Patel, tested positive for coronavirus before the tournament.
The world's richest cricket league has faced criticism for continuing in empty stadiums during the crisis, with a leading newspaper group accusing it of "commercialism gone crass" as it suspended coverage on Sunday.
IPL organisers were anxious to hold the tournament - said to generate billions of dollars for the Indian economy - after last year's event was moved to the United Arab Emirates because of the pandemic risk.
'Helpless' in cricket bubble
Players are being tested every two days in bio-secure bubbles where they will be based for eight weeks.
The Australian players are said to have left because of fears that they could become stuck as their country clamps down on travel from India.
Tye, who flew back on Sunday, said other players had asked him how he got home.
"Other guys are just happy to make sure I'm OK and make sure I'm in a good space," he told the SEN WA radio station.
Cricket Australia said it was in contact with IPL players, coaches and commentators and was listening to their "feedback" as well as to advice from the Australian government.
"Our thoughts are with the people of India at this difficult time," a statement said.
Cummins, one of the most expensive foreign imports into the league, said he had felt "helpless" watching events in India.
"There has been quite a bit of discussion over here as to whether it is appropriate for the IPL to continue while Covid-19 infection rates remain high," he said on Twitter, announcing a $50,000 donation to buy oxygen equipment.
"I am advised that the Indian government is of the view that playing the IPL while the population is in lockdown provides a few hours of joy and respite each day at an otherwise difficult situation for the country."
The Kolkata Knight Riders bowler urged other "privileged" players to also donate.
While Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting described India's coronavirus situation as "quite grim", social media commenters have been divided over the IPL carrying on.
The Express Publications newspaper group said it had stopped reporting 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 group said.
Senior journalist Sharda Ugra hit out at the IPL in a column for the Hindustan Times saying the IPL was "bubble-wrapped into tone deafness" oblivious to "the suffering outside its gates."
Australian coach David Hussey, who is helping Kolkata, said some players and staff had lost family in the pandemic.
"Everyone's pretty nervous about what's going on over here," he told Australian media.
"From a Kolkata point of view, we’re desperate for the tournament to keep going, purely because everyone’s in lockdown, there’s not much else to do."