IPL 2021: After Success Story of UAE, High Stakes for Organisers as Covid-19 Cases Surge in India
Compared to previous years, the start of this IPL season has been somewhat muted. Understandably so, given the looming threat of the Coronavirus, which is sweeping across the country with renewed vigour and could play spoilsport. The fact that the league is being held is in itself an achievement, but it need hardly be emphasised that this comes accompanied with huge risk, which makes it imperative for all participants to be on guard at all times. Any breach of safety protocol could imperil the tournament.
There is no guarantee that Covid-19 can be staved off in this pandemic. It can strike any time anywhere. This can happen because of bad luck, for which there is no prevention, or a bad move by those involved in the IPL for which there is. In the second instance, the onus is squarely on those in the bubble to be mature and responsible, understand the seriousness of the threat and be aware of the huge stakes involved.
How and why the Pakistan Super League was suspended mid-way through a few months back offers a serious lesson. Some organisers, team owners and players took the Covid threat lightly and Pakistan cricket came to grief.
There is no scope for even the most minor transgression, leave aside being cavalier, in the protocol laid out for players, franchise owners, broadcasters, organisers. Frankly, there is nobody and nothing more important than seeing this edition of the IPL through.
The 2020 IPL season was successful because of the UAE government’s stringent application of standard operating procedures. This must be replicated here too. A ‘chalta hai’ attitude would be calamitous.
Cricket has risked resumption across many countries despite the pandemic, and but for a few glitches, been able to stave off problems. If this IPL goes bust, it will hurt cricket, not to mention India’s image.
There have been some setbacks already with a few players withdrawing from the tournament (Josh Hazlewood, Josh Phillippe, Mitch Marsh). But the flip side is still sunny: in spite of the pandemic, the vast majority of overseas contracted players – and all Indians — have made it a point to participate.
This reflects on the power of the IPL brand. There is no other league that offers such great financial rewards, nor such manic following. For a player – established too, but particularly those starting out — to make an immediate and universal impact. Success in the IPL can fast-track international careers.
This season holds out rich promise, as always, of a tight contest between the eight teams. I’d be loath to predict a winner. The T20 format is topsy-turvy, full of surprises and upsets. The even spread of talent between the eight teams denies any obvious skew on paper.
And yet, past results do not conform to the theory of all teams being equal. For instance, the opening match this season is between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore. The record of these two teams is a study in contrast.
MI have won the title 5 times, RCB not even once despite having had some of the most breathtaking talent in their ranks over the years. What explains such diverse fortunes?
Several factors apart from talent come into play in T20 cricket, and particularly in the IPL: Composition and balance of the team to handle different conditions and situations, relations between franchise owners with players and support staff, mentorship by the coach, mental toughness ambition in players, stamina to play with the same intensity every day for 6-8 weeks.
These might seem generic requirements for success, but how they emerge and are applied during the course of a match and the tournament – the chemistry that is created between all sections of the squad and the management — define the end-result.
In this aspect, going by past results, defending champions MI look hard to better while RCB have many loose ends to tie up. The opening encounter should give some inkling of where the Bangalore team is headed.
That there are no `home matches’ could be the X-Factor this season. Most teams thrive on pitches and conditions they are familiar with and pick their squads accordingly. How will they be impacted because of the changed format remains to be seen.
Be that as it may, there are fantastic contests and face-offs – individual and collective – to look forward to. Too many to list in fact, so my primary focus will be on a clutch of Indian players who have missed most of the cricket action because of injury and some others who want to return or break through into the Indian team.
How Ravindra Jadeja, Mohamed Shami, Umesh Yadav fare in the tournament will not only reveal their prospects of being in the squad for the World Test Championship, but also the T20 World Cup later in the year.
Then there’s R Ashwin, India’s premier player in Tests this season, the IPL offers a path to return to national duty in white-ball cricket. It will take some doing, given the competition that exists, but a place in the T20 World Cup squad is not beyond his reach.
I have named only a few, but there are at least a dozen India players for whom this is an incredibly high-stakes IPL.