At the time the BCCI suspended the IPL indefinitely on May 4, players, coaching/support staff members from four franchises had tested positive for Covid-19. Subsequently a few more cases emerged as the IPL teams dispersed. Among those to test positive was the pair of former India fast bowler Lakshmipathi Balaji, who is the bowling coach with the Chennai Super Kings, and Varun Chakravarthy, the Tamil Nadu and Kolkata Knight Riders's spinner. While Balaji was in Delhi, Chakravarthy was in Ahmedabad, venues for the second leg of the IPL.
Below, both Balaji and Chakravarthy, who have recovered and back home, narrate first-person accounts of their experience.
Lakshmipathi Balaji - 'Was I scared? I was worried'
(Tested positive on May 2. Recovered May 14)
As I was isolating on my own having tested positive for Covid-19, a thought crossed my mind: recovering from Covid-19, both physically and mentally, is like experiencing an episode of Man vs Wild.
On May 2, I was feeling a bit of uneasiness. I had body ache and a mild nose block. I was tested the same day around mid-afternoon. By May 3 morning, I had tested positive. I was shocked. I had done nothing to breach the norms to endanger my and rest of the bubble's safety.
We had reached Delhi around April 26 from Mumbai. We were tested the next day followed by a match on April 28. The next day we had another test. On May 1, we played another match against Mumbai Indians. So I was confident that my immune system was strong enough and resistant to the coronavirus.
Along with me, after the May 2 testing, two others including Kasi Viswanathan (Super Kings' CEO) and a helping staff member had also tested positive. To ensure it was a false positive, we were tested again the same day. I tested positive for the second time. Promptly, I was moved to another floor at the team hotel, separate from the rest of the Super Kings squad.
Was I scared? Initially I could not express my feelings. I knew people were dying outside. It took me another 24 hours to sink in the seriousness of issue once family and friends started to message. I started to get worried. From the second day in isolation I realised I had to monitor myself, recording all the health data. I was obviously anxious.
I was also more worried about the others in my team who I was milling around with before I tested positive. Rajeev Kumar (CSK fielding coach), Robin [Uthappa] [Cheteshwar] Pujara, Deepak [Chahar] along with Kasi Sir were all around me. So my conscience was battling with the difficult question of what if any of these people tested positive, too? I was praying for their health.
Then I came to know that Michael Hussey (Super Kings' assistant coach), too, had tested positive. Till day we don't know how or where we contracted the coronavirus. We had a very strict protocol within the bubble from first week of March when CSK's preparatory camp started. After the experience in 2020 IPL when members of the CSK contingent tested positive, the franchise took maximum precautions even when we travelled from Chennai and Mumbai where we were based for the first leg of our IPL.
Even in Delhi we followed the strict protocol. I don't know where we might have caught the infection: was it at the ground? Was it at the training ground at the Roshanara Club? But that was secluded. And why should only two of us get it?
With the situation very bad in Delhi which was in the firm grip of the pandemic, the CSK management was pro-active and flew both Hussey and myself in an air ambulance on May 6 to Chennai where we had round-the-clock medical care. It was a crucial and timely step. We were transported into the air ambulance wrapped separate oxygen pods. The pod itself takes a good few hours to build. The pod is like a transparent tunnel where you are enclosed. That is the safest way and the only way to fly a Covid-19 patient.
Once in Chennai the anxiety that had gripped us in Delhi had been replaced by confidence. Mentally we became positive. I started to constantly exchanging messages with Hussey and we realised that many were dire situation outside. We were fortunate to be under better care. Eventually after spending about close to 12 days I returned home in Chennai on May 14.
It is a journey of survival is how I look at it. Lakhs of people have been affected, and most of them recovered, but many were not lucky to survive due to different reasons. It has been an intense situation. In my career I have encountered several challenges, but it is different battle we are going through dealing with the pandemic.
I realise now how lucky I was and that was because of the timely help of my franchise. It was huge effort to move get exemptions, clearances to shift us from Delhi to Chennai. But there are people out there who are waiting for hours and days on end to get help. We have to put in all our efforts to reach out and help out. Lives are at stake.
Varun Chakravarthy - 'Still have weakness and dizziness'
(Tested positive - May 1. Recovered - May 11)
The toughest thing about contracting Covid-19 is keeping your mind distracted, and away from all that was happening. Because you are alone, away from your family and team-mates. To keep myself occupied, I read books by Osho to give me a sense of calm.
I'm now doing well and recovering at home. I still haven't been able to resume training full tilt because of post-Covid-19 symptoms. Although I don't have cough or fever, there is weakness and dizziness. The loss of smell and taste is still intermittent, but I'm confident of being able to resume training soon.
As to how it all started, I felt something was slightly off on May 1. I felt tired. There was no cough whatsoever, but I had little fever, so I didn't attend our training session. I immediately informed the team management and they arranged for an RT-PCR test quickly. I was immediately quarantined and isolated, away from the rest of my KKR team-mates, in a separate wing of the hotel. Soon, I found out that I'd tested positive.
My first reaction was feeling worried, not only for myself, but also for what was happening around us in the country. Even a few of my family members were affected by Covid-19. It wasn't easy, but as professionals we had to find ways to go about our work in the best possible way.
I was in isolation for 12 days. There's a bit of sameness to your routine: being in the same room, having the same food almost. But I just had to find ways to get through the day. I'd wake up late, around 9am, have a light breakfast, then begin my web shows and movies marathon on Netflix and Amazon Prime. In between, I'd catch up with cousins and friends over video calls. After lunch, I'd take my medicines and speak to my family. Thankfully, they handled the situation calmly, and without panic.
The KKR franchise was very supportive. They went to the extent of even having someone from the team management stay back with me, even after the IPL was postponed and left only after I returned two negative tests and got back home. Shah Rukh Khan (Knight Riders' co-owner) spoke to all the players individually and motivated us.
The thing I've learnt and would like to tell other athletes and individuals recovering from Covid-19 is to give your body at least two weeks to fully recover after you test negative. Also, even after people test negative, my advice is for them to continue to mask up so that you keep others around you safe.
I'm relieved to have recovered fully, but it's tough to see so many people losing their lives. I realise how fortunate I've been to receive good treatment in this tough time. I'm just grateful for everything and pray everyone recovers and get back to their families.
(L Balaji spoke with Nagraj Gollapudi and Varun Chakravarthy to Shashank Kishore)