IPL 2021: In Times Of Covid Darkness, Cricket’s Brightest Stars Will Shine In India Again
The biggest, grandest and most exciting Twenty20 cricket league in the world has returned to India. International megastars will converge on six cities, where 60 matches will be played over 52 days, but under the Covid-19 cloud.
Coronavirus forced the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to move its premier Twenty20 cricket tournament to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year, but there’s a reason why the showpiece event is called the Indian Premier League (IPL). It’s back where it belongs.
While crowds and cheerleaders – an integral part of the league – will be missing from the 14th edition of the tournament, the intensity of cricket will be the same as every year.
From Chennai’s Chepauk, where the first match will be played between defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), to the world’s largest stadium in Ahmedabad, which will host the final on May 30, the tournament will lift the mood of a nation currently ravaged by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The virus has cast its shadow over the tournament. At least 15 people, including three players, tested positive for the virus before the games began, and have either recovered or are in different stages of recovery. A definite scare, but the BCCI and IPL franchises have stood their ground and the tournament will begin, as planned, tonight.
The first match involving two of Indian cricket’s biggest icons, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, is expected to be a thriller, which will set the tone for the 59 games to follow.
While MI have always been slow-starters, losing all their opening matches since 2013, the men in blue and golden have turned it around as the tournament progresses and won an unprecedented five titles in the past eight years. RCB, on the other hand, are still chasing the elusive trophy despite having reached the final thrice since the league’s inception in 2008.
As the champions and challengers take the ground in front of empty MA Chidambaram stands, the other six title contenders will be keenly watching from their bio-bubbles necessitated by Covid-19. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) from Chennai itself and Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Delhi Capitals (DC), Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Punjab Kings (PBKS) from Mumbai, where matches will be played at the Wankhede stadium.
Chennai and Mumbai will host the first 20 matches of the tournament till April 25, with neither MI nor CSK playing at their home venues.
The action will then move to Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi stadium and Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla, with the next 16 games from April 26 to May 8 being played at these two venues. The last 20 league matches will be played at Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy stadium and Kolkata’s Eden Gardens between May 9 and May 23, before the qualifiers, eliminator and the final take place at Ahmedabad on May 25, 26, 28 and 30.
Just like MI and CSK, all other teams, too, will play at neutral venues, thus doing away with home and away matches – a concept particularly popular with the fans, who would turn up in large numbers at stadiums to support “their” teams.
The BCCI had initially not ruled out allowing crowds in stadiums at a later stage in the tournament, but the plan seems farfetched now, especially with the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in India. While the fans will miss watching their favourite cricketers live in action, the IPL, too, will lose some of its sheen without the crowds – it’s they who make the tournament an extravaganza like no other.
What we expect to make up for the disappointments, though, is the joy of watching high-quality cricket – be it from inside a stadium or from a sofa in the living room – as the brightest stars in cricket will shine in India, again, at a time when darkness has engulfed our lives.