Chennai: On the eve of a new IPL season, the second in five months, the usual buzz one associates with the tournament is missing. The lead up to the event is usually filled with promotional events, franchises offering players and support staff for interactions with media. But with India currently in the grip of a second Covid-19 wave, questions are being raised. Is bringing the tournament back home a safe option? Will it go ahead without a pause?
Towards the business end of the previous edition, the IPL Governing Council led by Brijesh Patel was keen on keeping the 2021 edition in the Gulf. In fact, they even signed an MoU with the Emirates Cricket Board that would allow them to use the venues there.
It was even discussed as recently as January, but in the end the BCCI decided to bring the tournament back home as Covid-19 numbers came under control. That proved to be a false dawn.
The magnitude of the challenge that lies ahead of the BCCI to ensure a safe tournament is enormous. Particularly after the virus breached Mumbai Indians’ bio-secure bubble. There is relief that none of Kiran More’s contacts tested positive and after two days of isolation, they had a practice session ahead of the opening match against Royal Challengers Bangalore. On Friday, the sides will kickstart the 14th campaign behind closed doors at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
In terms of an opener, it can’t get bigger. Rohit Sharma, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell… it is these match ups that make the IPL the spectacle it is. Instead, the entire atmosphere is rather subdued with franchises holding their breath, looking to survive each day without any positive cases in the camp.
It is a tough environment to play sport, particularly when a majority of them have been living their lives in bubbles without any outside contact to the world, seeing the same faces and away from the families.
Franchises are doing their best by creating team rooms for leisure activities to get rid of bubble fatigue. They believe closeness in the group can keep the morale up. But unlike the previous edition, this is coming at the fag end of the season.
That three Australian players pulled-out of the IPL citing bubble life is an indication of how hard it is for those who are playing this tournament. And playing at home means players don’t get to do lot of things that they got to do in the UAE.
In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, franchises had booked hotels and resorts that had access to private beaches. In India, that is next to impossible. With Covid-19 numbers increasing at home, the decision to host the matches in six cities is under spotlight. Since the tournament will be played behind closed doors, restricting it to three venues would have suited everyone.
When it was all but decided to bring the IPL to India, the option that was explored was to host the entire tournament in Mumbai and Pune. With the former having three stadiums and Pune two hours by road, creating a bubble would have been easier. Now, the franchises have had to set up multiple bubbles. There is also lot of travelling involved.
The BCCI is planning to request the Centre to create separate security checks for the franchises at the airport so that it can create a separate bubble all the way to the tarmac where charter flights are parked. But there is always an element of risk involved.
That the BCCI has parted ways with Restrata that helped them with Covid-safe technologies which tracked everyone’s movement in the bubble seems like complacency. By hosting it in six venues at home, the BCCI has chosen to be bold. But whether it is the wise one remains to be seen.
First day, first show
Five-time champions Mumbai Indians and perennial under-performers Royal Challengers Bangalore will be in action on Friday…
RCB’s death bowling:
Without Chris Morris, this could become a running theme for Virat Kohli & Co. The bowlers they have at their disposal have gone for plenty at the death. Much will depend on the costly Kyle Jamieson, who has not been in good white-ball form. If he can be economical at the death, they might stand a good chance.
The one consensus is that MI are the team to beat. They are the most complete side, with match-winners from No 1 to No 11. If they are there or thereabouts after the spin-friendly first leg in Chennai, expect them to be installed as sure-shot favourites.