Star batsman Steve Smith and other Australian cricketers isolating in India are stranded after the Indian Premier League (IPL) was suspended amid a widening coronavirus outbreak.
Indian cricket officials say they’ll work to secure safe passage home for all IPL participants.
But Smith and about 40 Australians at the tournament must stay in India until at least 15 May because of a government ban on any Australians returning before that.
Cricket Australia and the players union, the Australian Cricketers’ Association, say they won’t seek exemptions from the government ban.
A fourth franchise from the lucrative Twenty20 tournament reporting a positive COVID-19 test prompted the competition to be called off indefinitely.
The captain of Smith’s Delhi Capitals – coached by Australian great Ricky Ponting – has tested positive. Delhi skipper Amit Mishra’s positive test has forced Smith, his Australian teammate Marcus Stoinis and compatriots Ponting and bowling coach James Hopes into isolation.
Australians David Warner and Mitchell Marsh will also be isolated after the wicketkeeper at their franchise, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, tested positive.
Fellow countrymen Pat Cummins, Ben Cutting] and assistant coach David Hussey, all at the Kolkata Knight Riders, had already been isolating after two players at their outfit tested positive.
And, Australian fast bowler Jason Behrendorff is also caught up in the outbreak with three staffers at his Chennai Super Kings testing positive.
As Indian societyand more than 220,000 deaths from the virus, the IPL halted competition.
“The tournament stands suspended,” IPL chairman Brijesh Patel said.
“Right now, we can’t say when we can reschedule it.”
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday the latest figures of coronavirus-positive cases in passengers coming out of India demanded the government pause flights.
Eight crossbenchers on Tuesday wrote to the prime minister asking him to revoke the pause and urgently repatriate Australians in India, starting with the most vulnerable, and set up a dedicated surge capacity quarantine facility in Australia.
‘Blood on your hands PM’
The government’s returning traveller ban was attacked by ex-Australian cricketer and now commentator Michael Slater, who had been in India commentating on the IPL.
Slater, who has been attempting to return home to Australia from cricket commentary duties in India, launched a tirade against the prime minister on Monday night.
“If our government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It’s a disgrace!!,” tweeted Slater, who has reportedly made it to the Maldives, where he will wait to come home.
“Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this.”
“And those who think this is a money exercise. Well forget it,” he tweeted a few hours later.
“This is what I do for a living and I have not made a penny having left early. So please stop the abuse and think of the thousands dying in India each day. It’s called empathy. If only our government had some!”
Scott Morrison defends India travel ban
Speaking to the Nine Network on Tuesday morning, Mr Morrison urged Australian cricketers to be “patient like everyone else”.
Mr Morrison said it was “absurd” to suggest he had blood on his hands.
“This is about getting more people home safely, preventing a third wave here in Australia.”
He said the rapid escalation of cases arriving from India put enormous pressure on the quarantine regime but denied it showed the system’s weakness.
“Every system is going to face its stresses and I’m not going to break the system,” Mr Morrison said.
“What I’m going to do is take proportionate action to protect the system so I can bring more Australians home and keep Australians safe for the longer term.”
Australian cricketers Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson last week fled the IPL, returning home via Qatar.
But any Australian attempting that journey now risks jail time and fines amid the travel ban, though the prime minister said such sanctions were remote.
Complicating matters is Australia’s limited-overs tour of the West Indies in June, with Smith, Cummins and other stars facing a tight turnaround if their homecoming was delayed.